FGFR3 promotes synchondrosis closure and fusion of ossification centers through the MAPK pathway
Activating mutations in FGFR3 cause achondroplasia and thanatophoric dysplasia, the most common human skeletal dysplasias. In these disorders, spinal canal and foramen magnum stenosis can cause serious neurologic complications. Here, we provide evidence that FGFR3 and MAPK signaling in chondrocytes promote synchondrosis closure and fusion of ossification centers. We observed premature synchondrosis closure in the spine and cranial base in human cases of homozygous achondroplasia and thanatophoric dysplasia as well as in mouse models of achondroplasia. In both species, premature synchondrosis closure was associated with increased bone formation. Chondrocyte-specific activation of Fgfr3 in mice induced premature synchondrosis closure and enhanced osteoblast differentiation around synchondroses. FGF signaling in chondrocytes increases Bmp ligand mRNA expression and decreases Bmp antagonist mRNA expression in a MAPK-dependent manner, suggesting a role for Bmp signaling in the increased bone formation. The enhanced bone formation would accelerate the fusion of ossification centers and limit the endochondral bone growth. Spinal canal and foramen magnum stenosis in heterozygous achondroplasia patients, therefore, may occur through premature synchondrosis closure. If this is the case, then any growth-promoting treatment for these complications of achondroplasia must precede the timing of the synchondrosis closure.