Research presented at The American Society for Bone and Mineral Research 2014 Annual Meeting reveals that GILZ, a small protein, appears to protect against the bone loss that frequently accompanies arthritis and its treatment. Prior research has shown GILZ can restore a more youthful, healthy mix, while also tamping down inflammation. Researchers now have early evidence that GILZ may eventually be a better treatment option for arthritis patients than synthetic glucocorticoids, a widely used treatment for this condition, according to a Science Daily news report.

For the study, the focus was tumor necrosis factor alpha, a proinflammatory cytokine that helps regulate immune cells and is a major player in arthritis. To specifically examine the impact on bone loss, researchers crossed mice bred to overexpress tumor necrosis factor alpha throughout the body with mice that overexpressed GILZ in just their mesenchymal stem cells, as indicated on the Science Daily news report.

These stem cells produce the osteoblasts, which make bone and fat. The research showed that GILZ can prompt mesenchymal stem cells back to making more bone and less fat. Researcher Xingming Shi, PhD, says while the mice that overexpressed only tumor necrosis factor alpha quickly developed arthritis along with significant bone and weight loss, those that also overexpressed GILZ had significantly less bone loss.

Nianlan Yang, PhD, says, “Our previous studies have shown that the GILZ transgenic mouse can make more bone. We wanted to see if GILZ would still have a bone protective effect in an inflammatory environment similar to arthritis.” Yang explains that the next steps include developing an oral medication that increases GILZ expression rather than the genetic alterations the researchers have used in animal models, as noted on the Science Daily news report.

In addition, the researchers also want to see if GILZ can prevent arthritis from developing in the face of inflammation.

Sources: Science Daily, Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University