To identify novel candidate genes associated with osteoporosis, RNAsequence analysis of human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs) from patients with osteoporosis (G3) and osteopenia (G2), and healthy controls (G1) was performed. Differentially expressed genes (DEGs) from among the three groups were identified. DEGs were separated into nine groups according to their gene expression patterns: UU (up and up), UF (up and flat), UD (up and down), FU (flat and up), FF (flat and flat), FD (flat and down), DU (down and up), DF (down and flat), and DD (down and down). Among the 42 DEGs between G3 and G1, eight candidate genes, namely stimulated by retinoic acid 6 (STRA6), melanophilin, neurotrophic receptor tyrosine kinase 2, cartilage oligomeric matrix protein, collagen type XI alpha 1 chain, integrin subunit beta 2, monooxygenase DBHlike 1 and selenoprotein P, were selected, as they demonstrated consistent gene expression patterns of UU, FU, FD, and DD. Among these eight genes, STRA6 was highly expressed in the osteoporosis group and based on additional data from quantitative polymerase chain reaction analysis, it was selected for further study. In order to investigate whether STRA6 served a functional role in osteoblast or adipocyte differentiation, the effects of STRA6 expression changes in pluripotent stem cell C3H10T1/2, preosteoblast MC3T3E1 and stromal ST2 cell lines were examined. Bone morphogenetic protein 2 enhanced STRA6 expression only at the early stage of osteoblast differe-ntiation, and overexpression of STRA6 temporally inhibited the expression of osteoblastogenesis markers, including runt related transcription factor 2, bone sialoprotein and osteocalcin. Furthermore, the knockdown of STRA6 slightly enhanced nodule formation at the late stage of osteoblast differentiation, and overexpression of STRA6 in ST2 cells enhanced adipocyte differentiation. Taken together, STRA6 expression could be associated with the pathogenesis of osteoporosis by promoting adipocyte differentiation over osteoblast differentiation in the hMSC population.
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