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Serotonin In The Gut May Hold The Key For Osteoporosis Treatment

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Serotonin and osteoporosis treatment

Serotonin, a naturally occurring chemical produced in the gut may hold the key to treatment for osteoporosis sufferers. Columbia researchers recently discovered that serotonin is not only responsible for mood, sleep and appetite. They discovered that when they turned serotonin on and off, they could regulate bone growth.

Gerard Karsenty, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Genetics and Development at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons said, "This proof-of-principle paper shows, to our amazement, that bone formation is regulated to a significant extent by the gut!" The surprise followed the researcher's efforts to find how mutation of the Lrp5 gene causes two rare forms of osteoporosis. The accidental discovery could potentially help millions of people who suffer from osteoporosis.

Most serotonin is produced in the duodenum, the shortest part of the small intestine. The rest is manufactured in the brain. Dr. Karsenty says, "Through our observations of two rare and severe forms of osteoporosis, one that causes drastic bone loss and one that causes extremely high bone mass, we were able to see clearly what happens with over-production or under-production of serotonin," said Dr. Karsenty. "Our hope is that this novel discovery will inform the development of new therapies for the millions of people with osteoporosis." See more about this Osteoporosis treatment now approved in Europe and US for men.

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Following menopause, women face a high risk of developing osteoporosis. Loss of bone mass is associated with declining estrogen levels. Protecting from osteoporosis has been the focus of much study, given the decline in hormone replacement therapy. Bone mineral density testing can detect osteoporosis, a disease that causes the bones to become "spongy", increasing our risk of injury from falls. Men can be also develop osteoporosis. Current screening guidelines recommend bone density testing for both women and men. Dr. Karsenty and his team were able to halt the development of osteoporosis in mice that were menopausal. Until now, scientists believed all of the body's contributors to bone growth and formation had been isolated.

Dr. Karsenty, an endocrinology specialist is amazed at the study results. "As an endocrinologist, I have spent a large part of my career investigating the interplay between energy metabolisms and bone mass. This demonstration of the vital function of bone proliferation stemming from the gut gives pause to those in my field who perhaps have not given the gut its due examination or the credit it deserves for how much it controls in the body, and that includes me." Don't miss: Treating Osteoporosis After Hip Fracture.

Reducing the pain and health risks associated with osteoporosis is challenging. The current research findings may provide a breakthrough in osteoporosis prevention and treatment. The research team concluded there is no doubt that serotonin produced in the gut controls bone growth. Medications that could slow down serotonin production in the gut could indeed hold the key to osteoporosis prevention, bypassing the side effects of currently marketed drugs.

Source: Columbia University Medical Center.

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