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Scientists identify a candidate gene for osteoporosis


Scientists identify a candidate gene for osteoporosis

Gene may underlie differences between African Americans and Caucasians

LOMA LINDA, Calif. (Thurs., Mar. 29, 2007) – Today, researchers report the identification of a gene that may play a role in susceptibility to osteoporosis—the crippling disease that leads to bone fractures, especially of the hip and spine. The study, conducted by scientists at the Musculoskeletal Diseases Center of the Jerry L Pettis Memorial Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center at Loma Linda, shows convincing evidence that a gene called DARC negatively regulates bone density in mice. The report appears online in Genome Research.

“If our finding using the mouse model is confirmed in humans, then we may be able to develop therapies that are based on inhibiting the function of the DARC gene,” explains Dr. Subburaman Mohan, Ph.D., a Senior Scientist at the Loma Linda VA Medical Center and a Professor of Medicine and Biochemistry at Loma Linda University. “We will also be able to develop genetic screens to identify individuals who are at risk for osteoporosis.”

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, osteoporosis affects 55% of Americans over the age of 50. Low bone mineral density (BMD)—the primary indicator of osteoporosis—is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors (e.g., diet or medication). But the genetic element has been difficult to characterize because bone growth is controlled by many genes, including those for various hormones, growth factors, signaling molecules, and structural components of bone and cartilage.

Previous genetic studies had pointed to a region on mouse chromosome 1 as containing a gene responsible for BMD regulation. In the current project, Mohan and his colleagues honed in on this region of chromosome 1 using a variety of molecular techniques, and they located a gene called DARC (Duffy Antigen Receptor for Chemokines) that exhibited different levels of expression in mice with higher BMD. The analogous chromosomal region has also been shown to influence osteoporosis in humans.

The protein encoded by DARC binds to chemokines—or small signaling proteins—that are involved in osteoclast formation. Osteoclasts break down bone in a process called bone resorption, releasing important minerals such as calcium, phosphate, and magnesium into the bloodstream. This causes a reduction in BMD.

To confirm the involvement of DARC in regulating BMD, Mohan’s team characterized the skeletal phenotype of mice with and without the DARC gene. The DARC-knockout mice exhibited increased BMD and lower bone resorption compared to mice with the DARC gene, supporting the predicted role of DARC in hastening bone resorption. They also showed that antibodies to the DARC protein, which effectively blocked the action of DARC, inhibited the formation of osteoclasts.

Although the researchers have identified a number of DNA alterations in the DARC gene, they did not pinpoint the specific alteration that was responsible for the BMD differences between the two strains of mice. However, Mohan and his colleagues predict that changes in the amino acid sequence or alterations in regulatory regions of the DARC gene may lead to key functional changes.

“There are interesting differences between African Americans and Caucasians that could be associated with this gene,” explains Mohan. “African Americans exhibit significantly higher BMD compared to Caucasians. Also, African Americans generally do not have the Duffy protein on red blood cells, while Caucasians do. The potential genetic association between DARC gene variation and these traits in humans certainly makes it worthy of further investigation.”

The scientists from the Jerry L Pettis Memorial VA Medical Center at Loma Linda (Drs. Bouchra Edderkaoui, Jon Wergedal, and Subburaman Mohan) and Dr. David Baylink (retired) collaborated with Dr. Wes Beamer from the Jackson Laboratory (Bar Harbor, Maine) and Dr. Asok Chaudhury from the New York Blood Center (N.Y.) in this study. The work was supported by an award from the U.S. Army (DAMD17-99-1-9571), and was performed using facilities provided by the Veterans Administration.

Media contacts:
Subburaman Mohan, Ph.D., principal investigator on the project, has agreed to be contacted ([email protected]; phone 909-825-7084, x2932) for additional information.

Interested reporters may obtain copies of the manuscript from Peggy Calicchia ([email protected]; 516-422-4012), Editorial Secretary, Genome Research.

About the article:
The manuscript will be published online ahead of print on Thursday, March 29, 2007. Its full citation is as follows:
Edderkaoui, B., Baylink, D.J., Beamer, W.G., Wergedal, J.E., Porte, R., Chaudhuri, A., and Mohan, S. 2007. Identification of mouse Duffy Antigen Receptor for Chemokines (DARC) as a BMD QTL gene. Genome Res. doi:10.1101/gr.6009507

About Genome Research:
Genome Research (www.genome.org) is an international, continuously published, peer-reviewed journal published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press. Launched in 1995, it is one of the five most highly cited primary research journals in genetics and genomics.

About Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press:
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press is an internationally renowned publisher of books, journals, and electronic media, located on Long Island, New York. It is a division of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, an innovator in life science research and the education of scientists, students, and the public. For more information, visit www.cshlpress.com.

Genome Research issues press releases to highlight significant research studies that are published in the journal.

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