Volume 658 of the series Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology pp 77-94


Novel Functions of RANK(L) Signaling in the Immune System

  • Andreas LeibbrandtAffiliated withIMBA, Institute of Molecular Biotechnology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences
  • , Josef M. PenningerAffiliated withIMBA, Institute of Molecular Biotechnology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences Email author 


The TNF family members RANKL and its receptor RANK have initially been described as factors expressed on T cells and dendritic cells (DCs), respectively, and have been shown to augment the ability of DCs to stimulate naive T cell proliferation and enhance DC survival. Since another, yet soluble receptor for RANKL, namely OPG, was initially characterized as a factor inhibiting osteoclast development and bone resorption, it was somewhat enigmatic at first why one and the same genes would be essential both for the immune system and bone development – two processes that on first sight do not have much in common. However, in a series of experiments it was conclusively shown that RANKL-expressing T cells can also activate RANK-expressing osteoclasts, and thereby in principal mimicking RANKL-expressing osteoblasts. These findings lead to a paradigm shift and helped to coin the term osteoimmunology in order to account for the crosstalk of immune cells and bone. More importantly was that these findings also provided a rationale for the bone loss observed in patients with a chronically activated immune system such as in rheumatoid arthritis, leukemias, or the like, arguing that T cells, which were activated during the course of the disease to fight it off, also express RANKL, which induces osteoclastogenesis and thereby shifts the intricate balance of bone deposition and resorption in favor of the latter. Through knockout mice it became also clear that the RANKL-RANK-OPG system is involved in other processes such as in controlling autoimmunity or immune responses in the skin. We will briefly summarize the role of RANK(L) signaling in the immune system before we discuss some of the recent data we and others have obtained on the role of RANK(L) in controlling autoimmunity and immune responses in the skin.


RANK RANKL OPG Osteoimmunology Osteoclast Osteoclastogenesis Immune system Rheumatoid arthritis Osteoporosis Autoimmunity