Study links poor manganese uptake to scoliosis

A new study conducted at Washington University School of Medicine has shed light on why some children start to develop scoliosis as they hit puberty.

Picture of child with scoliosis being checked over by doctor - Photographee.euImage Credit: Photographee.eu / Shutterstock

The study, which was recently published in the journal Nature Communications, suggests that some cases of severe scoliosis may arise as a result of the body being unable to fully utilize manganese, an essential dietary mineral that is needed for bone and cartilage growth.

Our study links a common disease - scoliosis - to something that's potentially modifiable in the diet. But we don't want people to go out right now and start manganese supplements, because we already know that too much manganese can be harmful."

Dr. Christina Gurnett, Senior Author

The team found that, compared with children without severe scoliosis, children who develop the condition are twice as likely to carry a genetic mutation that disrupts the ability of cells to absorb and use manganese.

For the study, first author Christina Gurnett and colleagues sequenced the genes of 457 children with severe scoliosis and 987 children without the condition.

The research revealed that a mutation in the gene SLC39A8 was only found in 6% of the healthy children, compared with 12% among the scoliosis group.

Further analysis of 841 children with moderate to severe scoliosis and 1,095 healthy children showed that the variant was twice as likely to occur in the scoliosis group.

The team also studied zebrafish engineered to have a disabled version of the gene and found that the animals developed skeletal abnormalities, including curved spines.

Although manganese is an essential mineral, high doses can cause a neurological condition called manganism, which leads to difficulty walking, tremors and psychiatric symptoms.

The mineral has also been associated with high blood pressure, Parkinson’s and schizophrenia.

On the other hand, too little manganese has been shown to cause problems with fat and sugar metabolism, impaired growth and curvature of the spine in animal models.

Our goal in studying the genetics of this disorder was to see if there was anything we could learn that might change how we treat patients.”

Dr. Christina Gurnett, Senior Author

The researchers warn that any supplementation with manganese would have to be carefully monitored to avoid any risk of other diseases developing.

Gurnett says the team has started testing this by studying zebrafish that have had manganese added to their water: "But we still need to do human studies to figure out how much exactly is both safe and effective."

Sally Robertson

Written by

Sally Robertson

Sally graduated from Greenwich University with a first-class honours degree in Biomedical Science. After five years working in the scientific publishing sector, Sally developed an interest in medical journalism and copywriting and went on to pursue this on a freelance basis. In her spare time Sally enjoys cross-country biking and walking, tennis and crosswords.

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