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Genetic loci that control the loss and regain of trabecular bone during unloading and reambulation
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Changes in trabecular morphology during unloading and reloading are marked by large variations between individuals, implying that there is a strong genetic influence on the magnitude of the response. Here, we subjected more than 350 second-generation (BALBxC3H) 4-month-old adult female mice to 3 weeks of hindlimb unloading followed by 3 weeks of reambulation to identify the quantitative trait loci (QTLs) that define an individual's propensity to either lose trabecular bone when weight bearing is removed or to gain trabecular bone when weight bearing is reintroduced. Longitudinal in vivo micro-computed tomography (μCT) scans demonstrated that individual mice lost between 15% and 71% in trabecular bone volume fraction (BV/TV) in the distal femur during unloading (average: -43%). Changes in trabecular BV/TV during the 3-week reambulation period ranged from a continuation of bone loss (-18%) to large additions (56%) of tissue (average: +10%). During unloading, six QTLs accounted for 21% of the total variability in changes in BV/TV whereas one QTL accounted for 6% of the variability in changes in BV/TV during reambulation. QTLs were also identified for changes in trabecular architecture. Most of the QTLs defining morphologic changes during unloading or reambulation did not overlap with those QTLs identified at baseline, suggesting that these QTLs harbor genes that are specific for sensing changes in the levels of weight bearing. The lack of overlap in QTLs between unloading and reambulation also emphasizes that the genes modulating the trabecular response to unloading are distinct from those regulating tissue recovery during reloading. The identified QTLs contain the regulatory genes underlying the strong genetic regulation of trabecular bone's sensitivity to weight bearing and may help to identify individuals that are most susceptible to unloading-induced bone loss and/or the least capable of recovering.