Irish scientists have discovered why babies need to move in the womb.
They found that biological signals directing the development of bone and cartilage at specific skeletal locations are stimulated by movement in the womb.
If an embryo does not move, a vital signal may be lost or an inappropriate one delivered in error and that can lead to the development of brittle bones or abnormal joints.
In early embryonic development, the cells receive biological signals that direct them to contribute to different types of tissue, and in different places.
Bones need to be strong and resilient to protect and support a body, but articulating joints, such as knees and elbows, need to be covered in smooth, lubricated cartilage so as to move smoothly.
The cells in the embryo are directed to decide to either form bone or cartilage, depending on where they are.
While scientists know many of the signals that direct the cells to build bone, they know a lot less about how the cartilage at the joint is directed.
At the moment, clinical treatment for joint degeneration is joint replacement. While it improves quality of life for many patients, it involves invasive surgery and is not a permanent solution.
Scientists at Trinity College Dublin believe a better understanding of how the embryo forms cartilage at the joint may lead to improved treatments for joint injuries and diseases.
Ways could be found to regenerate cartilage from stem cells to provide improved treatments for joint injuries and diseases.
Professor of Zoology at TCD, Paula Murphy, co-led the research, just published in the leading international journal, Development.
The scientists previously used chick and mouse embryos to show that when movement was reduced, the articular cells at the joint did not form properly and, in extreme cases, the bones could fuse at the joint.
Isolating the mechanism underlying healthy development provides new insights into what type of embryo movement is important and the specific signals needed to make a healthy joint.
“Our new findings show that in the absence of embryonic movement, the cells that should form articular cartilage receive incorrect molecular signals, where one type of signal is lost while another inappropriate signal is activated in its place,” said Prof Murphy.
Next, scientists will try to activate the correct signals to make stable cartilage that is capable of contributing to a healthy joint.
The work is the result of a collaboration between TCD’s School of Natural Science and the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, and has been grant-aided by the Indian Ministry.
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