A new study from engineering researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute shows, for the first time, how the little-understood protein osteocalcin plays a significant role in the strength of our bones. The findings could lead to new strategies and therapeutics for fighting osteoporosis and lowering the risk of bone fracture.
The study details how fractures in healthy bones begin with the creation of incredibly tiny holes, each measuring only about 500 atoms in diameter, within the bone’s mineral structure. In the case of a slip, trip, or fall, the force of the impact on a bone physically deforms a pair of joined proteins, osteopontin and osteocalcin, and results in the formation of nanoscale holes. These holes, called dilatational bands, function as a natural defense mechanism, and help to prevent further damage to the surrounding bone. However, if the force of the impact is too great—or if the bone is lacking osteopontin, osteocalcin, or both—the bone will crack and fracture.
The study, led by Deepak Vashishth, is the first to give evidence of fracture at the level of bone’s nanostructure.
Long known but little understood, the protein osteocalin has been produced by and present in animal bones since before the dawn of humanity. Recently, abnormalities in ostoecalcin production have been associated with type 2 diabetes as well as problems in reproductive health. Vashishth’s new study, however, is the first to explain the structural and mechanical importance of osteocalcin in bone.
Now that osteocalcin is known to participate in bone fracture, new strategies for strengthening the bond between osteocalin and osteopontin can be investigated, Vashishth said. Augmenting the body’s natural supply of osteocalcin, for example, could be one possible strategy for treating osteoporosis and other conditions leading to increased fracture risk, he said. Osteocalin must be in its carboxylated form to get absorbed into bone, and the protein is carboxylated by vitamin K.
Vashishth said future studies could investigate the relation between vitamin K intake, osteocalcin, and bone strength.
This story is reprinted from material from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier. Link to original source.