AUGUSTA, Ga. Too little of a protein called neogenin results in a smaller skeleton during development and sets the stage for a more fragile bone framework lifelong, Medical College of Georgia researchers report.
A developing mouse with neogenin deficits has poorly defined digits and is generally smaller, including having small growth plates, an indicator of future development, said Dr. Wen-Cheng Xiong, developmental neurobiologist in the MCG Schools of Medicine and Graduate Studies and corresponding author of the study published in Developmental Cell. Dr. Zheng Zhou, MCG assistant research scientist, is first author.
Their findings provide new insight into skeletal development as they point toward a potential new direction for treating osteoarthritis, a common, painful and debilitating condition where cartilage between bones is lost, Xiong said.
Neogenin doesn't make bone; rather, it forms a protein complex essential to turning on cartilage-producing genes, the researchers found. "Each cell type has a master gene. Neogenin is not that, it's more of a modulator," Xiong said. That's why, if it's mutated, like in the mouse, cartilage and bone formation is disrupted not halted. It's also why neogenin could be a good therapeutic target for turning the tide on cartilage or bone loss that occurs in osteoarthritis, Xiong said.
Skeletal development occurs early, which is why pregnant women need so much calcium. Initially the skeleton consists of soft bone or cartilage, which attracts blood vessels as well as the osteoblasts that replace most cartilage with hard bone over time. After birth, growth plates, where hard and soft bone meet, enable bones to lengthen and children to grow. After puberty, growth plates go away and bone hardens except for cartilage at the joints that eases movement and provides cushion. While bone cells continue to turn over, bone growth and loss should balance each other out after puberty due to o
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Medical College of Georgia