The genetic basis of human height : the role of estrogen

Carter, Shea L. (2008) The genetic basis of human height : the role of estrogen. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Height is a complex physical trait that displays strong heritability. Adult height is related to length of the long bones, which is determined by growth at the epiphyseal growth plate. Longitudinal bone growth occurs via the process of endochondral ossification, where bone forms over the differentiating cartilage template at the growth plate. Estrogen plays a major role in regulating longitudinal bone growth and is responsible for inducing the pubertal growth spurt and fusion of the epiphyseal growth plate. However, the mechanism by which estrogen promotes epiphyseal fusion is poorly understood. It has been hypothesised that estrogen functions to regulate growth plate fusion by stimulating chondrocyte apoptosis, angiogenesis and bone cell invasion in the growth plate. Another theory has suggested that estrogen exposure exhausts the proliferative capacity of growth plate chondrocytes, which accelerates the process of chondrocyte senescence, leading to growth plate fusion. The overall objective of this study was to gain a greater understanding of the molecular mechanisms behind estrogen-mediated growth and height attainment by examining gene regulation in chondrocytes and the role of some of these genes in normal height inheritance. With the heritability of height so well established, the initial hypothesis was that genetic variation in candidate genes associated with longitudinal bone growth would be involved in normal adult height variation. The height-related genes FGFR3, CBFA1, ER and CBFA1 were screened for novel polymorphisms using denaturing HPLC and RFLP analysis. In total, 24 polymorphisms were identified. Two SNPs in ER (rs3757323 C>T and rs1801132 G>C) were strongly associated with adult male height and displayed an 8 cm and 9 cm height difference between homozygous genotypes, respectively. The TC haplotype of these SNPs was associated with a 6 cm decrease in height and remarkably, no homozygous carriers of the TC haplotype were identified in tall subjects. No significant associations with height were found for polymorphisms in the FGFR3, CBFA1 or VDR genes. In the epiphyseal growth plate, chondrocyte proliferation, matrix synthesis and chondrocyte hypertrophy are all major contributors to long bone growth. As estrogen plays such a significant role in both growth and final height attainment, another hypothesis of this study was that estrogen exerted its effects in the growth plate by influencing chondrocyte proliferation and mediating the expression of chondrocyte marker genes. The examination of genes regulated by estrogen in chondrocyte-like cells aimed to identify potential regulators of growth plate fusion, which may further elucidate mechanisms involved in the cessation of linear growth. While estrogen did not dramatically alter the proliferation of the SW1353 cell line, gene expression experiments identified several estrogen regulated genes. Sixteen chondrocyte marker genes were examined in response to estrogen concentrations ranging from 10-12 M to 10-8 M over varying time points. Of the genes analysed, IHH, FGFR3, collagen II and collagen X were not readily detectable and PTHrP, GHR, ER, BMP6, SOX9 and TGF1 mRNAs showed no significant response to estrogen treatments. However, the expression of MMP13, CBFA1, BCL-2 and BAX genes were significantly decreased. Interestingly, the majority of estrogen regulated genes in SW1353 cells are expressed in the hypertrophic zone of the growth plate. Estrogen is also known to regulate systemic GH secretion and local GH action. At the molecular level, estrogen functions to inhibit GH action by negatively regulating GH signalling. GH treated SW1353 cells displayed increases in MMP9 mRNA expression (4.4-fold) and MMP13 mRNA expression (64-fold) in SW1353 cells. Increases were also detected in their respective proteins. Treatment with AG490, an established JAK2 inhibitor, blocked the GH mediated stimulation of both MMP9 and MMP13 mRNA expression. The application of estrogen and GH to SW1353 cells attenuated GH-stimulated MMP13 levels, but did not affect MMP9 levels. Investigation of GH signalling revealed that SW1353 cells have high levels of activated JAK2 and exposure to GH, estrogen, AG490 and other signalling inhibitors did not affect JAK2 phosphorylation. Interestingly, AG490 treatment dramatically decreased ERK2 signalling, although GH did stimulate ERK2 phosphorylation above control levels. AG490 also decreased CBFA1 expression, a transcription factor known to activate MMP9 and MMP13. Finally, GH and estrogen treatment increased expression of SOCS3 mRNA, suggesting that SOCS3 may regulate JAK/STAT signalling in SW1353 cells. The modulation of GH-mediated MMP expression by estrogen in SW1353 cells represents a potentially novel mechanism by which estrogen may regulate longitudinal bone growth. However, further investigation is required in order to elucidate the precise mechanisms behind estrogen and GH regulation of MMP13 expression in SW1353 cells. This study has provided additional evidence that estrogen and the ER gene are major factors in the regulation of growth and the determination of adult height. Newly identified polymorphisms in the ER gene not only contribute to our understanding of the genetic basis of human height, but may also be useful in association studies examining other complex traits. This study also identified several estrogen regulated genes and indicated that estrogen modifies the expression of genes which are primarily expressed in the hypertrophic region of the epiphyseal growth plate. Furthermore, synergistic studies incorporating GH and estrogen have revealed the ability of estrogen to attenuate the effects of GH on MMP13 expression, revealing potential pathways by which estrogen may modulate growth plate fusion, longitudinal bone growth and even arthritis.

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ID Code: 28390
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Morris, Charles & Van Daal, Angela
Keywords: estrogen, growth hormone, matrix metalloproteinase 13 (MMP13), chondrocytes, height, longitudinal bone growth, epiphyseal growth plate, single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), chondrosarcoma, osteoarthritis
Divisions: Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Science and Technology
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 02 Nov 2009 06:57
Last Modified: 26 Jun 2017 14:39

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