Modifying NFATc1 Triggers Bone Production
Oct 8, 2006 - 4:47:37 PM

Scientists in the US have found a way to trigger bone production, raising hopes of treatment for osteoporosis in humans.

Gerald Crabtree and colleagues at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Maryland, found that they could massively increase bone mass in mice by tweaking the structure of a protein in the body.

Osteoporosis is a disease in which bones become fragile and are prone to fractures.

In vertebrates, bone is constantly being formed and broken down throughout life. Cells called osteoclasts continuously degrade bone while cells called osteoblasts replenish it, reported the online edition of BBC News.

In an ideal situation, the two types of cells are perfectly balanced, allowing the bone to maintain bone mass. However, if the balance is upset and more bone is destroyed than formed it can lead to osteoporosis.

The researchers found that they could tip the balance by modifying the structure of a protein called NFATc1.

They modified NFATc1 in mice so it could move more easily into the command centre of cells, and thus become a little more active than usual. This triggered the production of large amounts of new bone, the researchers said.

'It could potentially be possible to develop new drugs to treat osteoporosis by recreating the same effect,' Crabtree said.

The researchers are hopeful that the risk of side effects would be minimal because only small modifications to NFATc1 were required to produce a profound effect.

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