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Researchers in Liverpool have found a link between stress fracture injuries and certain genes.

The study provides a platform for further research into providing a personalised health approach to this common sports injury, the University of Liverpool said on Wednesday.

Stress fractures are common injuries for athletes and military personnel. Unlike normal fractures, stress fractures are the result of accumulated trauma from repeated mechanical usage, such as running or jumping.

In the new study, Derby Professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Jim Gallagher, and his team at the University of Liverpool´s Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease, sought to identify the contribution made by a specific gene, P2X7R, to stress fracture injuries in two groups of volunteers made up of military recruits and elite athletes.

Previous research has shown that mutations in this gene are associated with low lumbar spine bone mineral density and accelerated bone loss in post-menopausal women.

Professor Gallagher said: “The genetic predisposition to develop a stress fracture is still a relatively new research area and our understanding of the risks that predispose individuals to develop a stress fracture is still very limited.

“The study found that two specific variations within the gene were associated with stress fracture injuries in healthy, exercising individuals. The precise mechanism by which these variations may influence stress fracture risk is unknown but may include decreased sensitivity of bone to mechanical loading or adverse changes to specific bone cells.

“The findings are the first to demonstrate an independent association between stress fracture injury and specific variations in purinergic receptor genes. This work builds on pioneering basic laboratory research over several years in which we first showed that purinergic receptors are expressed in bone cells and that they regulate the response of bone to mechanical loading.”

He added that further work with a larger sample group is needed in order to explain the mechanisms at work and to help in the development of preventative measures and more suitable personalised treatments.

Details of the research have been published in Purinergic Signalling, the Official Journal of the International Purine Club.