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New weapon in battle against osteoporosis

nsible for building bone, carry CB2 receptors on their surface. In this way it appears that signal molecules like the endocannabinoids being formed by the body are able to regulate bone growth.

This thesis has been supported by experiments on mice whose ovaries were removed. The resulting oestrogen deficiency would normally lead to a depletion of bone material and finally to "mouse osteoporosis". "We treated these mice with an active substance that bonds specifically to the CB2 receptor. In this way we were able to diminish the bone loss caused by ovary removal," explains the molecular biologist.

Many patients carry a particular variant of the CB2 gene

But how far can these results be applied to human beings? To answer this question, Dr. Karsak turned to a team of scientists working in France who had access to genetic samples from more than 160 female osteoporosis patients and 240 healthy women. This line of enquiry proved a complete success: "We found that a specific variant of the CB2 gene occurs more frequently among the patients than among the healthy control group," says Dr. Karsak. Individuals who carry this defect in their genetic make-up are not destined to have problems. However, as she points out, "Women with this mutation have a three-fold higher risk of osteoporosis."

The results show not only that the CB2 receptor is essential for the maintenance of a normal bone mass; they also open up completely new possibilities for therapy: "In many women with osteoporosis the CB2 receptor functions, so in their cases the disease has other causes. For them we could consider stimulating the receptor through medication and in this way slow down their bone loss." The possibility that this approach can work has been demonstrated by the experiments on mice without ovaries.

The findings hold out hope for women with a CB2 defect, too. First, it is easy to identify whether a woman is carrying the relevant mutation, so the re
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Source:University of Bonn


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