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J Musculoskelet Neuronal Interact. 2006 Jan-Mar;6(1):27-35.

Recent advances in the genetics of osteoporosis.

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Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology Unit, St Thomas' Hospital, London, UK.


It has been known for over 20 years that osteoporosis is highly influenced by genetic factors. Bone mineral density (BMD) has also been shown to be highly heritable. Other known risk factors for osteoporotic fractures such as reduced bone quality, femoral neck geometry and bone turnover are now also known to be heritable. Susceptibility to osteoporosis is mediated, in all likelihood, by multiple genes each having small effect. Different approaches are being used currently to identify the many genes responsible. These include linkage studies in man and experimental animals as well as candidate gene studies and alterations in gene expression. Linkage studies have identified multiple quantitative trait loci (QTL) for regulation of BMD and, with twin studies, have indicated that the effects of these loci are partly site-dependent and sex-specific. On the whole, the genes responsible for BMD regulation at these QTL have not yet been isolated. Most studies have used the candidate gene approach. The vitamin D receptor gene (VDR), the collagen type I alpha 1 gene (COLIA1) and estrogen receptor gene (ER) alpha have been most widely investigated and found to play a role in regulating BMD, but the effects are modest and together probably account for less than 5% of the heritable contribution to BMD. Genes may vary in their influence of particular intermediate phenotypes, and we now know that not all genes influencing BMD will be important in fracture. In addition, the study of other diseases such as osteoarthritis and metabolic bone syndromes may prove fruitful in highlighting genes which overlap to osteoporosis as well. As large scale genetic testing becomes more cost-effective, recent findings have illustrated the potential of novel approaches. These include combining large multi-national populations for candidate gene analysis, meta-analyses, DNA pooling studies and gene expression studies.

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