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Possible New Risk Factor for Osteoporosis Discovered


Researchers have discovered a new gene that regulates the activity of cells that break down bone. The discovery could become a new risk factor for osteoporosis and help identify people who are predisposed to developing the bone damaging disease.

Osteoporosis is silent until a bone breaks

Unlike most other diseases, which have characteristic signs and symptoms, osteoporosis usually goes undiagnosed until someone suffers a broken bone or the bone loss is found during a dual x-ray absorptiometry (DXA or DEXA) test (which measures spine, hip, or whole body bone density), ultrasound, or quantitative computed tomography. Osteoporosis can be prevented or at least significantly curtailed if people know the risk factors and begin taking steps early in life to keep their bones strong with diet, exercise, and other lifestyle factors.

The possibility of a genetic risk factor for osteoporosis opens the door to being able to identify people who are susceptible to the disease, which is caused by an imbalance between the creation of bone tissue by cells called osteoblasts and the resorption of bone tissue by osteoclasts. In this new study, researchers at the Institut de recherché cliniques de Montreal (IRCM) isolated a gene that regulates osteoclasts.

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The investigators found that in mice, when this gene lost its function, there was a significant increase in the number of osteoclasts, resulting in a greater amount of bone resorption. According to Dr. Jean Vacher, director of the Cellular Interactions and Development research unit at IRCM, “We identified this gene as a novel modulator of bone mineral density in mice and humans.”

The more significant finding was that “the human gene could represent a new susceptibility factor for osteoporosis,” explained Dr. Vacher, which in turn will aid in identifying people who are at greater risk of the disease and who could immediately take preventive steps.

Risk factors for osteoporosis

Currently, the risk factors for osteoporosis are

  • Age: bone mass begins to decline with age, usually starting around age 30
  • Gender: Women are four times more likely than men to develop osteoporosis
  • Ethnicity: Caucasian and Asian women are more likely to develop osteoporosis
  • Body weight and bone structure: Women who are thin and petite are at greater risk of developing osteoporosis
  • Some medications: Long-term use of steroids such as prednisone can increase the risk of osteoporosis
  • Family history: If your parents or grandparents had osteoporosis or a fracture following a minor fall, you may be at increased risk
  • Personal history of broken bones

Further research is needed to determine whether the discovery of this new gene will lead to it being added to the list of risk factors for osteoporosis.

Institut de recherché cliniques de Montreal