The researchers are now interested to see if Glucocorticoid-induced leucine zipper (GILZ), which is produced naturally in the body, can prevent arthritis from developing in the face of inflammation.

Arthritis as well as ageing prompts the body to make more fat than bone. "We have early evidence that GILZ might one day offer a better treatment option for arthritis patients than widely used synthetic glucocorticoids, which actually increase bone loss," said Xingming Shi, a bone biologist at the Georgia Regents University in US.

Directly over-expressing the protein appears to better target sources of bone loss and inflammation and avoids the serious side effects associated with glucocorticoid treatment.

For this study, the focus was tumour necrosis factor alpha, a pro-inflammatory cytokine (small protein) that helps regulate immune cells and is a major player in arthritis.

To look specifically at the impact on bone loss, the researchers crossed mice bred to over-express tumour necrosis factor alpha throughout the body with mice that over-expressed GILZ in stem cells.

"While the mice that over-expressed only tumour necrosis factor alpha quickly developed arthritis along with significant bone and weight loss, those that also over-expressed GILZ had significantly less bone loss," Shi said.

Their findings are scheduled to be presented at The American Society for Bone and Mineral Research 2014 Annual Meeting during September 12-15 at Houston in US.

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