Activin A does not drive post-traumatic heterotopic ossification

Charles Hwang, Chase A. Pagani, Nanditha Das, Simone Marini, Amanda K. Huber, Li Qin Xie, Johanna Jimenez, Susannah Brydges, Wei Keat Lim, Kalyan C. Nannuru, Andrew J. Murphy, Aris N. Economides, Sarah J. Hatsell*, Benjamin Levi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Heterotopic ossification (HO), the formation of ectopic bone in soft tissues, has been extensively studied in its two primary forms: post-traumatic HO (tHO) typically found in patients who have experienced musculoskeletal or neurogenic injury and in fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP), where it is genetically driven. Given that in both diseases HO arises via endochondral ossification, the molecular mechanisms behind both diseases have been postulated to be manifestations of similar pathways including those activated by BMP/TGFβ superfamily ligands. A significant step towards understanding the molecular mechanism by which HO arises in FOP was the discovery that FOP causing ACVR1 variants trigger HO in response to activin A, a ligand that does not activate signaling from wild type ACVR1, and that is not inherently osteogenic in wild type settings. The physiological significance of this finding was demonstrated by showing that activin A neutralizing antibodies stop HO in two different genetically accurate mouse models of FOP. In order to explore the role of activin A in tHO, we performed single cell RNA sequencing and compared the expression of activin A as well as other BMP pathway genes in tHO and FOP HO. We show that activin A is expressed in response to injury in both settings, but by different types of cells. Given that wild type ACVR1 does not transduce signal when engaged by activin A, we hypothesized that inhibition of activin A will not block tHO. Nonetheless, as activin A was expressed in tHO lesions, we tested its inhibition and compared it with inhibition of BMPs. We show here that anti-activin A does not block tHO, whereas agents such as antibodies that neutralize ACVR1 or ALK3-Fc (which blocks osteogenic BMPs) are beneficial, though not completely curative. These results demonstrate that inhibition of activin A should not be considered as a therapeutic strategy for ameliorating tHO.

Original languageEnglish
Article number115473
StatePublished - Sep 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • ACVR1
  • ALK3-Fc
  • Activin A
  • Anti-ACVR1 antibody
  • Burn tenotomy
  • Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva
  • Heterotopic ossification
  • Inhba
  • Progenitor cells
  • Single cell RNA sequencing
  • Trauma


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