A handful of brain cells deep in the brain may play a surprising role in controlling women’s bone density, according to new research by UC San Francisco and UCLA scientists.
In a study published January 11, 2019 in Nature Communications, researchers showed that blocking a particular set of signals from these cells causes female (but not male) mice to build extraordinarily strong bones and maintain them into old age, raising hopes for new approaches to preventing or treating osteoporosis in older women.
“Our collaborators who study bone for a living said they’d never seen bone this strong,” said study senior author Holly Ingraham, Ph.D. “Our current understanding of how the body controls bone growth can’t explain this, which suggests we may have uncovered a completely new pathway that could be used to improve bone strength in older women and others with fragile bones.”
Women 65 and older should keep getting screened for osteoporosis, or porous, fragile bones that are prone to fractures, U.S. doctors recommend.
Some younger women who have an increased risk of osteoporosis might also benefit from bone tests, according to guidelines released today from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. This might include smokers, women who drink excessively, and women who are underweight or have a parent who has fractured a hip.
“Since many people don’t know they have osteoporosis until they have a fracture, screening gives us a chance to prevent these fractures from happening,” said task force member Dr. Chien-Wen Tseng of the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine in Honolulu.