Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP) is a rare genetic disorder characterized by episodically exuberant heterotopic ossification (HO), whereby skeletal muscle is abnormally converted into misplaced, but histologically normal bone. This HO leads to progressive immobility with catastrophic consequences, including death by asphyxiation. FOP results from mutations in the intracellular domain of the type I BMP (bone morphogenetic protein) receptor ACVR1; the most common mutation alters arginine 206 to histidine (ACVR1(R206H)) and has been thought to drive inappropriate bone formation as a result of receptor hyperactivity. We unexpectedly found that this mutation rendered ACVR1 responsive to the activin family of ligands, which generally antagonize BMP signaling through ACVR1 but cannot normally induce bone formation. To test the implications of this finding in vivo, we engineered mice to carry the Acvr1(R206H) mutation. Because mice that constitutively express Acvr1[R206H] die perinatally, we generated a genetically humanized conditional-on knock-in model for this mutation. When Acvr1[R206H] expression was induced, mice developed HO resembling that of FOP; HO could also be triggered by activin A administration in this mouse model of FOP but not in wild-type controls. Finally, HO was blocked by broad-acting BMP blockers, as well as by a fully human antibody specific to activin A. Our results suggest that ACVR1(R206H) causes FOP by gaining responsiveness to the normally antagonistic ligand activin A, demonstrating that this ligand is necessary and sufficient for driving HO in a genetically accurate model of FOP; hence, our human antibody to activin A represents a potential therapeutic approach for FOP.
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