Monday, July 25, 2011
Scientists Discover Why Bones Grow on Muscle
Researchers think they've found out why some people's muscles mistakenly grow bones.
The condition, called heterotopic ossification, occurs when an area of the body is signaled to grow bone rather than other tissues. In short, the condition gives rise to bones growing in places they're not usually found -- in muscles. People may experience the phenomenon after recovering from injury or may have it from birth.
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Though there's no way to prevent or know when a person will develop heterotopic ossification, scientists now have a starting point to develop drugs that could help treat the problem.
Approximately 1 person out of every 2 million people worldwide is born with a permanent type of the condition called fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP), which causes muscles to consistently produce bone, especially when a person is injured or sick. In more serious cases, the disease can hinder a person's mobility and even shorten his or her life.
In a study in the Journal of Cellular Biochemistry, researchers at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine found high levels of a neuropeptide called "Substance P," or SP, in both FOP patients and individuals who developed heterotopic ossification. From previous studies, it's known that SP causes inflammation and is used by the brain's neurons to help send white blood cells to injured areas of the body.
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By studying 16 tissue samples from patients living with heterotopic ossification and FOP, scientists noticed a spike in the compound. They also compared the samples with four male controls. In other experiments, they discovered that "knocking" out the gene that produces SP in transgenic mice lowered their chances of acquiring the condition.
Despite potential treatment options in the future, researchers will need to find more about how SP works in a larger number of patients and whether it can be realistically controlled in people with life-long forms of heterotopic ossification.
Photo by Minervaaa/Wikimedia Commons