New Genetic Link to Osteoarthritis Discovered

You may have heard it said that if someone lives long enough, they will develop osteoarthritis somewhere.

While that may be an exaggeration, it's true that getting older, heavier, and incurring repetitive stress injuries can contribute to osteoarthritis. But why do some people get it and some go into old age with nary a twinge in their joints?

It's becoming clearer to scientists that there is a genetic basis for osteoarthritis. In other words, nature plays a role along with nurture. And now, scientists have discovered a third gene that they say likely plays a role in this degenerative bone disease.

Researchers at England's Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute looked at the genomes of more than 3,000 people with osteoarthritis in comparison with those of almost 5,000 people in the general population. In all, they studied 600,000 gene variants. They then compared their data to information from an existing genome project and searched through more than seven million genome variants, finally coming up with an association between the existence of osteoarthritis and a gene variant known as MCF2L.

What Is MCF2L?

MCF2L is on chromosome 13, a different chromosome from those on which two other gene variants connected with osteoarthritis were previously found. MCF2L is a gene that regulates a nerve growth factor. When osteoarthritis sufferers were treated with an antibody against this growth factor in earlier studies, they were found to suffer less pain and more joint movement. The discovery of MCF2L gives credence to the scientists' belief that osteoarthritis, and perhaps knee osteoarthritis in particular, has a genetic basis.

While the researchers hope to prove a casual association between MCF2L and the development of osteoarthritis, they acknowledge that identifying the disease's genes has proved to be a very difficult and complex process. Adding to this particular study's limitations is the fact that the entire study population is of European descent, which means it's impossible to know whether MCF2L is a genetic marker appearing only in this group or whether osteoarthritis sufferers worldwide possess the gene.

Is There a MCF2L Screen?

While you may not yet be able to be screened genetically for your propensity toward developing osteoarthritis, there are definite steps you can take to minimize your likelihood of suffering from this painful condition:

  • Maintain a healthy weight to minimize stress on your joints.
  • Stay active to promote muscle and joint health.
  • Reduce risk of repetitive-stress injuries by alternating activities.




Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute,

Arthritis Foundation,