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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1992 Aug 1; 89(15): 6665–6669.

Contribution of trans-acting factor alleles to normal physiological variability: vitamin D receptor gene polymorphism and circulating osteocalcin.


Osteocalcin, the most abundant noncollagenous protein in bone, is a marker of bone turnover in normal and disease states. Its synthesis is induced by calcitriol, the active hormonal form of vitamin D, through the vitamin D receptor and a specific vitamin D-responsive element in the osteocalcin gene promoter. Serum concentrations of osteocalcin are under strong genetic influence. To ascertain whether variability in circulating osteocalcin levels may reflect allelic variation in the vitamin D receptor gene, we have analyzed the relationship between frequent restriction fragment length polymorphisms (RFLPs, detected by endonucleases Bsm I, EcoRV, and Apa I) that define human vitamin D receptor alleles and serum osteocalcin in a cohort of normal subjects. In 91 Caucasian subjects, RFLPs in the vitamin D receptor gene predicted circulating osteocalcin levels (P less than 0.0001) independent of age or menopause effects. Since the osteocalcin gene and the vitamin D receptor gene are encoded on different chromosomes, the interaction between these two genes occurs in trans. Thus, common alleles of this trans-acting factor, the vitamin D receptor, are functionally different and contribute to "normal" physiological variability in osteocalcin levels. Preliminary analysis in monozygotic and dizygotic twin pairs indicates that the greater diversity in lumbar spine density between the dizygotic pairs can be explained by divergence in vitamin D receptor alleles. Variations in this receptor and other transacting factor genes may confound physiological studies of regulation of target genes and will need to be considered in future human and animal studies. This approach to genetic analysis provides a paradigm for the study of functional variation in trans-acting factors and the role such variation may play in the generation and evolution of physiological diversity.

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