SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 19 (Xinhua) -- Scientists from two U.S. universities have found a potential new treatment for older women who suffer a medical condition in which their bones become weak and break easily, suggests a new study published recently in the journal Nature Communications.
Life scientists from University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and University of California San Francisco (UCSF) have found a handful of brain cells deep in the brain may play a surprising role in controlling women's bone density.
During experiments on mice, the researchers discovered that female mice, instead of male mice, witnessed their bones growing extraordinarily strong when a particular set of signals from a small number of neurons in their brain were blocked, and their super-strong bones could maintain in old age.
The study 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," said senior author of the study Holly Ingraham, professor and vice-chair of cellular and molecular pharmacology at UCSF.
The study's co-author Stephanie Correa, a UCLA assistant professor of integrative biology and physiology, observed in her past experiment that genetically deleting the estrogen receptor protein in neurons in a brain region called the hypothalamus caused altered mice to gain a slight amount of weight.
Her surprising laboratory results showed that the heavy mice became large-boned as their bone mass had increased by as much as 800 percent.
"We knew right away it was a game-changer and presented a new, exciting direction with potential applications for improving women's health," Correa said in a UCLA statement.
More than 200 million people worldwide suffer from osteoporosis, a weakening of the bones that easily causes fractures as a result of falls or even minor stresses like bending over or coughing.
Women are at particularly high risk of osteoporosis after menopause, and nearly one-thirds of post-menopausal women in the U.S. and Europe suffer from weakened bones, according to a UCSF report.
The U.S. scientists hope that if more experiments prove that a brain-released novel circulating factor triggers enhanced bone growth, they might have a chance of developing a drug for treating osteoporosis in older women.