Genetic Link Found Between Fat And Bone Mass
March 12, 2013

Genetic Link Found Between Fat And Bone Mass

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Researchers at Tel Aviv University (TAU) have uncovered a direct genetic link between fat and bone mass — a discovery that they claim brings the medical community one step closer to understanding how both types of tissues are interconnected on a biological level.

Genetics play an important role in the composition of the human body, and can play a key role in whether or not a person becomes obese or develops osteoporosis, explained professor Gregory Livshits of the TAU Department of Anatomy and Anthropology. The newly discovered link between the two could help doctors better treat these and other fat- and bone-related conditions.

For their study, Livshits and his partner, Dr. Michael Korostishevsky, were looking to build upon previous research focusing on osteocalcin, a protein produced by bone cells that plays a role in bone-building.

That research had linked osteocalcin to both the regulation of glucose and fat metabolism, and discovered lower levels of the protein in overweight or obese men and women. The TAU researchers were hoping to determine whether or not the mechanism behind this link had a genetic root.

To do so, they recruited more than 1,100 volunteers from a group of Bulgarian tribal descendants known as the Chuvasha, who were selected because they are innately isolated people who are highly uniform, genetically-speaking, as a result.

All of the study participants were at least 20 years of age, and each was tested for variants of the osteocalcin gene, the researchers said. Their genetic information was then compared to each subject´s body mass index (BMI) and skin-fold thickness (which measured the amount of fat located under the skin).

"We discovered a statistically significant association between osteocalcin gene variants and measures of body mass, suggesting the involvement of this gene in body mass regulation," Livshits said in a statement.

He and Korostishevsky then had researchers at Tulane University double-check their results by examining the osteocalcin gene variants and body mass measurements of more than 2,200 US residents of European descent. The results were described as “very similar.”

Since their work demonstrates that there is a genetic link between fat and bone mass, Livshits said he believes that health issues linked to both factors — including obesity and osteoporosis — should not be treated separately. Medications such as bisphosphonates, which help treat bone mineral density loss, should be studied to make sure that they do not harm fat tissues in the process (or vice versa with obesity drugs).

The results of the TAU study have been published in the journal Bone.