March 16, 2015
Female athletes suffer from two to eight times more anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries than male athletes, and genes may be a factor, according to a new study by researchers in Akron, Ohio.
Dr. William Landis, G. Stafford Whitby chair in the Department of Polymer Science at the University of Akron, and Dr. Kerwyn Jones, chair of pediatric orthopedics for Akron Children’s Hospital, examined 14 fresh surgical samples of ruptured ligament tissue taken from both female and male athletes who suffered non-contact injuries of the tissues.
“We wondered about the influence of genes and how they might affect the structure or integrity of these ligaments,” Landis said in a university release. “After some very detailed and extensive analysis through gene microarray techniques, we discovered 32 genes that were expressed to much different degrees in the injured ligaments of females compared with those of males.”
The researchers found that three of the 32 expressed genes gave rise to specific proteins related to ligament structure and integrity.
They discovered that all three genes regulated ligament tissue much differently in female compared to male tissue, which could account for weaker anterior cruciate ligaments in the females, Landis explained.
“We can’t change genes, but we can help girls strengthen their core and improve their technique," Jones said. "Several exercises and prevention programs have been proven to reduce the number of ACL injuries and we can and should introduce them to all girl athletes starting in middle school.”
The findings could change the way women receive sports training and treatment for their injuries, as well as open discussions about the value of genetic counseling for young women interested in participating in sports.