Boning up

Christian Northeast illustration

Deer have the rare ability to grow antlers, with males (and, among reindeer and caribou, females) sprouting a new pair every spring and shedding the pair in winter. During the summer months, antlers can grow as much as 2 centimeters a day.

When Peter Yang, PhD, associate professor of orthopedic surgery, heard about that rapid growing cycle during a vacation in Alaska, he wondered whether specific genes were responsible.

To find out, he and research colleagues traveled to a deer farm in California to collect samples of antler tissue, which is primarily made up of skeletal stem cells, then used a variety of techniques to decipher the genetics behind antler growth. That research identified two genes — uhrf1 and s100a10 — that drive the antler’s quick bone production, according to a study published Oct. 30 in the Journal of Stem Cell Research & Therapy.

The researchers hope that knowing the genetics behind the fast bone growth and mineralization in antler regeneration can provide insight into treating fractures and bone diseases such as osteoporosis in humans.

“Antler regeneration is a unique phenomenon that, to me, is worth studying just out of pure curiosity, but lo and behold, it may have some really interesting applications for human health,” Yang said.