BMP Ligand Trap ALK3-Fc Attenuates Osteogenesis and Heterotopic Ossification in Blast-Related Lower Extremity Trauma

Amy L. Strong, Philip J. Spreadborough, Devaveena Dey, Peiran Yang, Shuli Li, Arthur Lee, Ryan M. Haskins, Patrick D. Grimm, Ravi Kumar, Matthew J. Bradley, Paul B. Yu, Benjamin Levi*, Thomas A. Davis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Traumatic heterotopic ossification (tHO) commonly develops in wounded service members who sustain high-energy and blast-related traumatic amputations. Currently, no safe and effective preventive measures have been identified for this patient population. Bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) signaling blockade has previously been shown to reduce ectopic bone formation in genetic models of HO. In this study, we demonstrate the efficacy of small-molecule inhibition with LDN193189 (ALK2/ALK3 inhibition), LDN212854 (ALK2-biased inhibition), and BMP ligand trap ALK3-Fc at inhibiting early and late osteogenic differentiation of tissue-resident mesenchymal progenitor cells (MPCs) harvested from mice subjected to burn/tenotomy, a well-characterized trauma-induced model of HO. Using an established rat tHO model of blast-related extremity trauma and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection, a significant decrease in ectopic bone volume was observed by micro-computed tomography imaging following treatment with LDN193189, LDN212854, and ALK3-Fc. The efficacy of LDN193189 and LDN212854 in this model was associated with weight loss (17%-19%) within the first two postoperative weeks, and in the case of LDN193189, delayed wound healing and metastatic infection was observed, while ALK3-Fc was well tolerated. At day 14 following injury, RNA-Seq and quantitative reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction analysis revealed that ALK3-Fc enhanced the expression of skeletal muscle structural genes and myogenic transcriptional factors while inhibiting the expression of inflammatory genes. Tissue-resident MPCs harvested from rats treated with ALK3-Fc exhibited reduced osteogenic differentiation, proliferation, and self-renewal capacity and diminished expression of genes associated with endochondral ossification and SMAD-dependent signaling pathways. Together, these results confirm the contribution of BMP signaling in osteogenic differentiation and ectopic bone formation and that a selective ligand-trap approach such as ALK3-Fc may be an effective and tolerable prophylactic strategy for tHO.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-105
Number of pages15
JournalStem Cells and Development
Issue number2
StatePublished - 15 Jan 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • ALK2/ALK3 kinase inhibitors
  • bone morphogenic protein (BMP)
  • heterotopic ossification
  • limb amputation
  • trauma-induced extremity injury


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