Rochester, Minnesota




Merry Jo Oursler, Ph.D., examines the roles of osteoclasts in bone metabolism. Osteoclasts are the cells responsible for bone loss during osteoporosis, causing debilitating pain and fractures following metastasis to bone of many types of cancer including breast and myeloma. Currently available therapies for bone loss suppress osteoclast differentiation and often affect survival. One unintended effect of these therapies is that they also suppress bone formation. Dr. Oursler and her colleagues have discovered that osteoclasts and their precursors produce factors that promote recruitment, differentiation and function of bone-forming osteoblasts. The goal of Dr. Oursler's research program is to discover the mechanisms by which osteoclast lineage cells promote bone formation.

Focus areas

  • While it is clear that local wingless-related integration site (Wnt) protein production is crucial for normal bone formation, the cellular sources of these Wnts are unresolved. Dr. Oursler and colleagues are investigating the role of osteoclast lineage Wnt production in bone formation and resorption regulation.
  • Recent advances in novel therapies to promote bone formation have targeted Wnt effects on bone formation. Clinical trials of these new therapies have also shown that they suppress osteoclast numbers and bone resorption. Dr. Oursler and her team examine the mechanisms by which Wnts suppress osteoclast differentiation.
  • Transforming growth factor beta (TGF-ß) is released by bone resorption. Dr. Oursler's team found that locally available TGF-ß stimulates osteoclast Wnt protein production to increase osteoblast numbers and elevate bone formation.

Significance to patient care

Data from Dr. Oursler's research will contribute to understanding the molecular mechanisms controlling bone resorption and bone formation. This information will enhance future therapies to lessen health problems associated with bone loss, pain and fractures.

Professional highlight

  • Editorial board member, Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, 2010-present
  • Associate editor, BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 2008-present
  • Research representative, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, Bone and Mineral Research Advocacy and Science Policy Committee, 2007-2013
  • Chair, American Society for Bone and Mineral Research Education Committee, 2007-2010
  • Member, American Society for Bone and Mineral Research Education Committee, 2000-2013


Primary Appointment

  1. Consultant, Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, Metabolism, Nutrition, Department of Internal Medicine

Joint Appointment

  1. Consultant, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
  2. Consultant, Section of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology, Department of Internal Medicine

Academic Rank

  1. Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
  2. Professor of Medicine


  1. Research Fellowship - Osteoclast-estrogen responses, estrogen effects on human giant cells tumors, and osteoblast-glucocorticoid responses Mayo Foundation
  2. PhD - Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Washington University
  3. MS - Environmental Studies University of Rochester
  4. BA - Biology/Chemistry Skidmore College

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