Genome-wide association study of extreme high bone mass: Contribution of common genetic variation to extreme BMD phenotypes and potential novel BMD-associated genes

Celia L. Gregson*, Felicity Newell, Paul J. Leo, Graeme R. Clark, Lavinia Paternoster, Mhairi Marshall, Vincenzo Forgetta, John A. Morris, Bing Ge, Xiao Bao, J. H. Duncan Bassett, Graham R. Williams, Scott E. Youlten, Peter I. Croucher, George Davey Smith, David M. Evans, John P. Kemp, Matthew A. Brown, Jon H. Tobias, Emma L. Duncan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Background: Generalised high bone mass (HBM), associated with features of a mild skeletal dysplasia, has a prevalence of 0.18% in a UK DXA-scanned adult population. We hypothesized that the genetic component of extreme HBM includes contributions from common variants of small effect and rarer variants of large effect, both enriched in an extreme phenotype cohort. Methods: We performed a genome-wide association study (GWAS) of adults with either extreme high or low BMD. Adults included individuals with unexplained extreme HBM (n = 240) from the UK with BMD Z-scores ≥+3.2, high BMD females from the Anglo-Australasian Osteoporosis Genetics Consortium (AOGC) (n = 1055) with Z-scores +1.5 to +4.0 and low BMD females also part of AOGC (n = 900), with Z-scores −1.5 to −4.0. Following imputation, we tested association between 6,379,332 SNPs and total hip and lumbar spine BMD Z-scores. For potential target genes, we assessed expression in human osteoblasts and murine osteocytes. Results: We observed significant enrichment for associations with established BMD-associated loci, particularly those known to regulate endochondral ossification and Wnt signalling, suggesting that part of the genetic contribution to unexplained HBM is polygenic. Further, we identified associations exceeding genome-wide significance between BMD and four loci: two established BMD-associated loci (5q14.3 containing MEF2C and 1p36.12 containing WNT4) and two novel loci: 5p13.3 containing NPR3 (rs9292469; minor allele frequency [MAF] = 0.33%) associated with lumbar spine BMD and 11p15.2 containing SPON1 (rs2697825; MAF = 0.17%) associated with total hip BMD. Mouse models with mutations in either Npr3 or Spon1 have been reported, both have altered skeletal phenotypes, providing in vivo validation that these genes are physiologically important in bone. NRP3 regulates endochondral ossification and skeletal growth, whilst SPON1 modulates TGF-β regulated BMP-driven osteoblast differentiation. Rs9292469 (downstream of NPR3) also showed some evidence for association with forearm BMD in the independent GEFOS sample (n = 32,965). We found Spon1 was highly expressed in murine osteocytes from the tibiae, femora, humeri and calvaria, whereas Npr3 expression was more variable. Conclusion: We report the most extreme-truncate GWAS of BMD performed to date. Our findings, suggest potentially new anabolic bone regulatory pathways that warrant further study.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)62-71
Number of pages10
Early online date5 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2018


  • Bone mineral density
  • Endochondral ossification
  • NPR3
  • SPON1
  • Wnt signalling


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