Changes in tissue molecules may contribute to osteoporosis risk

Scientists are reporting the first direct evidence that a subtle change in the physical properties of a tissue can affect its function. The finding could help in understanding several rare hearing disorders as well as offer insight into such conditions as osteoporosis, arthritis, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

In their study, the scientists discovered that blocking the function of a particular molecule in the ear bone of mice decreased the hardness of the bone, and caused hearing loss. Reactivating the molecule restored the bone's hardness and the animals' hearing.

The finding reveals the molecular pathway that regulates the physical properties of extracellular matrix - the interlocking mesh of molecules between cells - in the ear's cochlear bone. The matrix is responsible for the hardness of human tissues, such as stiff bone and enamel, as well as soft brain and skin.

Researchers also found that variations in the physical properties of extracellular matrix affect tissue function. This finding could lead to further research on abnormal matrix properties in the tissues of diseases throughout the body, including osteoporosis and arthritis.