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A handful of brain cells deep in the brain may play a surprising role in controlling women’s bone density, according to new research by UC San Francisco and UCLA scientists.
In a study published January 11, 2019 in Nature Communications, researchers showed that blocking a particular set of signals from these cells causes female (but not male) mice to build extraordinarily strong bones and maintain them into old age, raising hopes for new approaches to preventing or treating osteoporosis in older women.
Holly Ingraham, PhD, senior author. “Our collaborators who study bone for a living said they’d never seen bone this strong,” said study senior author Holly Ingraham, PhD, who is professor and vice-chair of cellular and molecular pharmacology and Herzstein Distinguished Investigator in Molecular Physiology at UCSF. “Our current understanding of how the body controls bone growth can’t explain this, which suggests we may have uncovered a completely new pathway that could be used to improve bone strength in older women and others with fragile bones.”
More than 200 million people worldwide suffer from osteoporosis, a weakening of the bones to the point where falls or even minor stresses like bending over or coughing can trigger fractures. In healthy individuals, bone tissue is constantly being recycled – old bone tissue is broken down and replaced by new bone. As we age, this cycle tilts in favor of bone loss, causing our bones to become increasingly porous and fragile.
Women are at particularly high risk of osteoporosis after menopause (nearly one in three post-menopausal women in the US and Europe suffer from weakened bones) because of declining levels of the sex hormone estrogen, which normally promotes bone growth.
Estrogen plays many roles in the female body, particularly in the regulation of reproduction, but its function in the brain is still poorly understood. The Ingraham lab has long sought to understand how …