Researchers have identified cell genes that play a very important role in our skeleton. This genetic map may help to better understand and treat bone diseases.
Our skeleton is a very dynamic structure. Its shape and composition change throughout our lives. In our bones you will find a lot of osteocytes: cells that – almost like neurons in the brain – form an entire network in our skeleton. We’re talking about 42 billion of these cells that have 23 trillion connections with each other.
This network monitors the health of our bones and responds to things like growth, stress, hormones and thus also damage and aging. They do this by telling other cells in the environment: to build more bone cells, or break down damaged cells. Kind of like a contractor or manager. If it is not properly balanced and the management cells do not function properly, for example, diseases such as osteoporosis can develop, which currently affect around 900,000 people in the Netherlands.
Examining these cells is not easy. This is partly due to their presence in this rigid skeleton. So it is not easy to isolate and study. An international team of researchers led by the Garvan Institute for Medical Research in Australia was able to examine the genetic signatures of these cells.
They found a set of 1,239 genes turned on in these cells. Genes that can be distinguished from other cells. 77 percent of these genes were not yet known to play an important role in our skeleton. They are known as the genes found in nerve cells, but their role in the skeleton is not yet known.
What doctors and researchers can do now, according to these scientists, is to use this gene map that plays an important role in preserving the skeleton to determine whether or not bone disease has a genetic cause. It also helps develop treatments for bone disease and may promote bone repair. It can help to better understand the impact of current treatments on the skeleton.