Adult height is easy to measure, but the number of genes that contribute to height has long been a mystery. In a previous study, scientists scanned the DNA of more than 30,000 people and identified 180 gene locations (referred to in the study of genetics as “loci”) that affect adult height. The genes at these loci influence the growth plate, which affects bone elongation and thus determines stature. But the scientists were unable to determine the number of genes at each locus that affected height or how the genes worked together.
To find answers, researchers in the Section on Growth and Development in the Division of Intramural Research used three methods to identify genes within the 180 loci that regulate growth plate development. First, they measured the activity of thousands of genes in the growth plate at once, a technique called gene expression profiling. They then examined human and rodent disease databases to identify genes from both humans and rodents that influence abnormal skeletal growth.
The researchers found 78 genes that play a role in bone growth, many of which are located near or within the loci found in the previous study. Of these 78 genes, 28 had never been identified as regulating growth plate development in either mice or humans.
The identification of these genes can contribute to our understanding of human growth disorders. In addition, the researchers’ analytic approach—previously used only to determine prostate cancer risk—may prove equally useful for future genetic association studies (PMID: 22914739).