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Drugs Treat Osteoporosis in Mice

By Kate Ruder

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Scientists have identified a gene in mice that reduces the development of bones, and they have treated mice with osteoporosis with drugs that counteract the activity of the gene and strengthen bones.

The mouse bone gene could be used to locate a counterpart in humans, which, if it exists, might be used to develop drugs to treat osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis mainly affects women and causes weak bones that are more prone to fractures from bumps and injuries. Getting enough calcium and exercise are important in preventing disease.

Now researchers have discovered a gene called Alox15 that can reduce the density and strength of bones in mice, something called bone mineral density. Bone mineral density is one of the most important predictors of osteoporosis in people.

In a separate part of the research, the scientists used a new type of drug to improve the strength of bones in mice with two forms of osteoporosis. The drug works in a different way than current treatments for osteoporosis in humans.

The drug both improved the strength of bones as mice grew, and offset the bone loss that accompanied a reduction in estrogen, like that seen during menopause in women. If scientists better understand this process in mice, they could develop better treatments to help reduce bone loss in woman going through menopause.

The study combined traditional mouse genetics, genomic technology, and drug therapy. Results of the study, led by Robert F. Klein of Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, are published today in the journal Science.

Klein and his colleagues used a “gene chip” to pinpoint the Alox15 gene in a particular region of the mouse genome.

Klein emphasizes that the research is still far from the doctor’s office. “This is mouse work and we’re a long way from applying it to the human condition,” he says.

Researchers have identified only a handful of genes associated with risk for osteoporosis; they expect that many genes are involved, but are unsure how many genes are associated with this complex disease.

Klein, R. F. et al. Regulation of the bone mass in mice by the lipoxygenase gene Alox15. Science 303, 229-232 (January 9, 2004).

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