The microbiome: A heritable contributor to bone morphology?

Christopher J. Hernandez, Andrew H. Moeller

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Bone provides structure to the vertebrate body that allows for movement and mechanical stimuli that enable and the proper development of neighboring organs. Bone morphology and density is also highly heritable. In humans, heritability of bone mineral density has been estimated to be 50–80%. However, genome wide association studies have so far explained only 25% of the variation in bone mineral density, suggesting that a substantial portion of the heritability of bone mineral density may be due to environmental factors. Here we explore the idea that the gut microbiome is a heritable environmental factor that contributes to bone morphology and density. The vertebrae skeleton has evolved over the past ~500 million years in the presence of commensal microbial communities. The composition of the commensal microbial communities has co-evolved with the hosts resulting in species-specific microbial populations associated with vertebrate phylogeny. Furthermore, a substantial portion of the gut microbiome is acquired through familial transfer. Recent studies suggest that the gut microbiome also influences postnatal development. Here we review studies from the past decade in mice that have shown that the presence of the gut microbiome can influence postnatal bone growth regulating bone morphology and density. These studies indicate that the presence of the gut microbiome may increase longitudinal bone growth and appositional bone growth, resulting differences cortical bone morphology in long bones. More surprising, however are recent studies showing that transfer of the gut microbiota among inbred mouse strains with distinct bone phenotypes can alter postnatal development and adult bone morphology. Together these studies support the concept that the gut microbiome is a contributor to skeletal phenotype.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)82-87
Number of pages6
JournalSeminars in Cell and Developmental Biology
StatePublished - Mar 2022
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


  • Bone
  • Development
  • Evolution
  • Growth
  • Microbiome


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