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Rodent of the Week: Serotonin influences bone growth

December 5, 2008 |  1:30 pm

Rodent_of_the_weekThe brain chemical serotonin, which is naturally produced to help regulate mood, appetite and sleep, appears to play a surprising role in bone growth and in a surprising place -- the gut.

A study on mice by researchers at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons has turned the current thinking on bone growth on its head. The skeleton was thought to control bone growth, but the new research shows that tinkering with serotonin regulation in the duodenum also controls bone formation. The study, published in the journal Cell, found that serotonin tells cells in the skeleton to slow production of new bone. By turning off the intestine's production of serotonin, the researchers were able to prevent osteoporosis in menopausal mice.

The findings are likely to apply to humans. In fact, the study was prompted by a desire to understand two rare genetic bone diseases in humans. The researchers verified that circulating serotonin levels were abnormal in people with both diseases.

The discovery of the role of serotonin in the gut could lead to new treatments for osteoporosis.

"This lack of bone promoting drugs is a major concern because osteoporosis is often diagnosed when the damage to bone is already significant and fracture risk is already too high," Dr. Gerard Karsenty, the lead author of the study, said in a news release. "We need something to build bone, not just prevent or repair its loss."

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Advanced Cell Technology Inc.