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PLoS Comput Biol. 2008 Dec;4(12):e1000250. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000250. Epub 2008 Dec 26.

Identification of mechanosensitive genes during embryonic bone formation.

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Department of Zoology, School of Natural Sciences, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland.


Although it is known that mechanical forces are needed for normal bone development, the current understanding of how biophysical stimuli are interpreted by and integrated with genetic regulatory mechanisms is limited. Mechanical forces are thought to be mediated in cells by "mechanosensitive" genes, but it is a challenge to demonstrate that the genetic regulation of the biological system is dependant on particular mechanical forces in vivo. We propose a new means of selecting candidate mechanosensitive genes by comparing in vivo gene expression patterns with patterns of biophysical stimuli, computed using finite element analysis. In this study, finite element analyses of the avian embryonic limb were performed using anatomically realistic rudiment and muscle morphologies, and patterns of biophysical stimuli were compared with the expression patterns of four candidate mechanosensitive genes integral to bone development. The expression patterns of two genes, Collagen X (ColX) and Indian hedgehog (Ihh), were shown to colocalise with biophysical stimuli induced by embryonic muscle contractions, identifying them as potentially being involved in the mechanoregulation of bone formation. An altered mechanical environment was induced in the embryonic chick, where a neuromuscular blocking agent was administered in ovo to modify skeletal muscle contractions. Finite element analyses predicted dramatic changes in levels and patterns of biophysical stimuli, and a number of immobilised specimens exhibited differences in ColX and Ihh expression. The results obtained indicate that computationally derived patterns of biophysical stimuli can be used to inform a directed search for genes that may play a mechanoregulatory role in particular in vivo events or processes. Furthermore, the experimental data demonstrate that ColX and Ihh are involved in mechanoregulatory pathways and may be key mediators in translating information from the mechanical environment to the molecular regulation of bone formation in the embryo.

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