Targeted stimulation of retinoic acid receptor-γ mitigates the formation of heterotopic ossification in an established blast-related traumatic injury model

Bone. 2016 Sep;90:159-67. doi: 10.1016/j.bone.2016.06.014. Epub 2016 Jun 28.


Heterotopic ossification (HO) involves formation of endochondral bone at non-skeletal sites, is prevalent in severely wounded service members, and causes significant complications and delayed rehabilitation. As common prophylactic treatments such as anti-inflammatory drugs and irradiation cannot be used after multi-system combat trauma, there is an urgent need for new remedies. Previously, we showed that the retinoic acid receptor γ agonist Palovarotene inhibited subcutaneous and intramuscular HO in mice, but those models do not mimic complex combat injury. Thus, we tested Palovarotene in our validated rat trauma-induced HO model that involves blast-related limb injury, femoral fracture, quadriceps crush injury, amputation and infection with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus from combat wound infections. Palovarotene was given orally for 14days at 1mg/kg/day starting on post-operative day (POD) 1 or POD-5, and HO amount, wound dehiscence and related processes were monitored for up to 84days post injury. Compared to vehicle-control animals, Palovarotene significantly decreased HO by 50 to 60% regardless of when the treatment started and if infection was present. Histological analyses showed that Palovarotene reduced ectopic chondrogenesis, osteogenesis and angiogenesis forming at the injury site over time, while fibrotic tissue was often present in place of ectopic bone. Custom gene array data verified that while expression of key chondrogenic and osteogenic genes was decreased within soft tissues of residual limb in Palovarotene-treated rats, expression of cartilage catabolic genes was increased, including matrix metalloproteinase-9. Importantly, Palovarotene seemed to exert moderate inhibitory effects on wound healing, raising potential safety concerns related to dosing and timing. Our data show for the first time that Palovarotene significantly inhibits HO triggered by blast injury and associated complications, strongly indicating that it may prevent HO in patients at high risk such as those sustaining combat injuries and other forms of blast trauma.

Keywords: Animal model; Bioburden; Blast overpressure exposure; Endochondral ossification; Heterotopic ossification; Prophylaxis; Retinoic acid receptor-γ agonist; Traumatic extremity injury.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blast Injuries / complications
  • Blast Injuries / drug therapy*
  • Blast Injuries / pathology
  • Chondrogenesis / drug effects
  • Chondrogenesis / genetics
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Male
  • Ossification, Heterotopic / drug therapy*
  • Ossification, Heterotopic / pathology
  • Osteogenesis / drug effects
  • Osteogenesis / genetics
  • Pyrazoles / pharmacology
  • Pyrazoles / therapeutic use
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Retinoic Acid / metabolism*
  • Stilbenes / pharmacology
  • Stilbenes / therapeutic use
  • Wound Healing / drug effects
  • Wounds and Injuries / complications
  • Wounds and Injuries / drug therapy*
  • Wounds and Injuries / pathology


  • Pyrazoles
  • Receptors, Retinoic Acid
  • Stilbenes
  • retinoic acid receptor gamma
  • Palovarotene