The genetic variants contributing to variability in skeletal traits have been well studied, and several hundred quantitative trait loci (QTLs) have been mapped and several genes contributing to trait variation have been identified. However, many questions remain unanswered. In particular, it is unclear whether variation in a single gene leads to alterations in function. Bone is a highly adaptive system and genetic variants affecting one trait are often accompanied by compensatory changes in other traits. The functional interactions among traits, which is known as phenotypic integration, has been observed in many biological systems, including bone. Phenotypic integration is a property of bone that is critically important for establishing a mechanically functional structure that is capable of supporting the forces imparted during daily activities. In this paper, bone is reviewed as a system and primarily in the context of functionality. A better understanding of the system properties of bone will lead to novel targets for future genetic analyses and the identification of genes that are directly responsible for regulating bone strength. This systems analysis has the added benefit of leaving a trail of valuable information about how the skeletal system works. This information will provide novel approaches to assessing skeletal health during growth and aging and for developing novel treatment strategies to reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with fragility fractures. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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