Progressive osseous heteroplasia (POH) is a rare developmental disorder of heterotopic ossification (HO) caused by heterozygous inactivating germline mutations in the paternal allele of the GNAS gene. Interestingly, POH lesions have a bewildering mosaic distribution. Using clinical, radiographic, and photographic documentation, we found that most of the 12 individuals studied had a lesional bias toward one side or the other, even showing exclusive sidedness. Most strikingly, all had a dermomyotomal distribution of HO lesions. We hypothesized that somatic mutations in a progenitor cell of somitic origin may act on a background of germline haploinsufficiency to cause loss of heterozygosity at the GNAS locus and lead to the unilateral distribution of POH lesions. Taking advantage of the chick system, we examined our hypothesis by mimicking loss of heterozygosity of GNAS expression using dominant-negative GNAS that was introduced into a subset of chick somites, the progenitors that give rise to dermis and muscle. We observed rapid ectopic cartilage and bone induction at the axial and lateral positions in a unilateral distribution corresponding to the injected somites, which suggests that blocking GNAS activity in a targeted population of progenitor cells can lead to mosaic ectopic ossification reminiscent of that seen in POH.
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