ANN ARBOR, Mich.---Common genetic variants linked to arthritis may also play a role in human height, a new study shows.
The international study was co-led by the University of Michigan School of Public Health. The journal Nature Genetics will publish the findings online Jan. 13.
The new study confirms observations by health professionals of a connection between decreased height and increased risk of osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis. Researchers speculate that both extremes of height may be associated with osteoarthritis for different reasons. Shorter bones and/or less cartilage may render the joints more susceptible to damage, while longer bones may produce greater levels of damaging stress on the joints.
The findings are exciting for several reasons, said Gonalo Abecasis, assistant professor in the School of Public Health. For one, there are many genes that control height, but only a few associated with osteoarthritis, he said.
"In this case the gene we picked also is important in osteoarthritis and it's actually quite hard to find genes for osteoarthritis," said Abecasis, who co-directed the study with Karen Mohlke of the University of North Carolina. "One of the things we were excited about is you could study (height) in many people, and once you've done that you have a short list of genes that you can then study for what they do in terms of osteoarthritis."
The findings also add to the general understanding of height.
"It is useful to know all genes responsible for height variation, so we are reassured if our baby is shorter than others because he has a collection of "short" alleles on his DNA, and not because he has something wrong, like a metabolism disorder," said Serena Sanna, co-author who worked on the paper as a post-doctoral student in Abecasis' group and who is now at the National Research Council di Cagliari in Italy. Anne Jackson, a research specialist at U-M, is also
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University of Michigan