Researchers from Medical College of Georgia Institute of Molecular Medicine and Genetics have identified a protein that may make more bone and reduce fat.
Lead researcher Dr. Xingming Shi, bone biologist at the Medical College believes that protein GILZ can act as a potential target for developing therapies for osteoporosis, obesity.
"The pathways are parallel, and the idea is if you can somehow disrupt the fat production pathway, you will get more bone," said Shi.
"Osteoporosis and obesity are two major public health problems, but people have no idea whether they have a connection.
"Bone and fat do have a common source: both are derived from mesynchymal stem cells. Bone loss and fat gain also tend to happen with age and with use of the powerful, anti-inflammatory steroid hormones glucocorticoids.
"When you age, your bone marrow microenvironment changes; the balance between the bone and fat pathway is broken. You have more fat cells accumulate," he added.
Weight gain and bone loss are established side effects of glucocorticoids, whose wide-ranging uses include treatment for arthritis, asthma, infections and organ transplants.
To restore a healthier balance of bone and fat production, sustained GILZ action is needed.
"When you permanently express GILZ, cells cannot differentiate into fat cells. Instead, you increase bone formation. People like this idea," he said.
Dr. Shi believes GILZ is a key factor mediating the anti-inflammatory effects of glucocorticoids. A long-acting version of GILZ or a similar substance would be needed to produce, for example, a powerful new arthritis treatment minus the undesirable effects.
About 50 percent of arthritis patients who take glucocorticoids develop osteoporosis, he notes, worsening an already difficulty condition worse.
The research is published on the cover of the April 15 issue of Journal of Cellular Biochemistry.