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Keywords:

  • heritability;
  • bone mass;
  • children;
  • prepubertal;
  • body size

Abstract

The aim of this study was to estimate heritability of bone density in premenopausal women, prepubertal male, and prepubertal female child pairs. We studied 291 pairs (mothers, mean age, 33 years, range 22–45 years; children, mean age, 7.92 years, range 7.32-8.92 years). Bone density and body composition were assessed by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. Height and weight were measured in both mother and child. Body size-adjusted heritability estimates for areal bone density (g/cm2) were all statistically significant (femoral neck, 59%; lumbar spine, 38%; total body, 41%) and were consistently and significantly higher in mother-daughter pairs (n = 105) as compared with mother-son pairs (n = 186). Heritability estimates for bone mineral apparent density (BMAD; g/cm3) were marginally lower but remained statistically significant at all sites (femoral neck, 51%; lumbar spine, 32%; total body, 38%). Maternal osteopenia was associated with significant reductions in bone mass at all sites in the children (femoral neck, 0.75 SD and p < 0.0001; lumbar spine, 0.61 SD and p < 0.0001; total body, 0.43 SD and p = 0.012). Mother-child bone areal bone density correlation coefficients and prediction of low bone mass in the child were greater (but this did not reach statistical significance) if the corresponding anatomical site in the mother was used for prediction with the exception of the total body. These data confirm that heritability of bone mass extends to prepubertal children and is gender- and possibly site-specific as well as under separate genetic control to growth. Furthermore, the strength of the mother-child association is such that bone density screening of mothers would make it possible to identify most prepubertal children at higher risk of osteoporosis in later life.