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http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=why-do-cats-purr

The article above says that cats purr mostly when they're wounded or under duress. They hypothesis that cats purring leads to increases in bone density and bone healing. How is this possible? What are some physiological possibilities for something like this to occur?

I don't see any journal articles backing up any of these claims. Is it similar to how ultrasound in clinical trials works?

Is the cat purring affect formation of osteoblasts? What is possibly happening microscopically?

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

The author is likely referring to the mechanosensory behavior of bone (reviewed in Huang and Ogawa, 2010; lots of Google Scholar citations). Bone loading produces very tiny mechanical deflections (strain) which are translated into biochemical signals that promote bone growth through the action of osteoblasts. Burger and Klein-Nuland (1999) review possible mechanisms.

The low frequency soundwaves produced during purring overlap the frequencies that have been shown experimentally to induce bone formation (1-50Hz; e.g., Castillo et al., 2006; Xie at al. 2006). Although an interesting hypothesis, I don't think that osteogenesis in response to purring has ever been experimentally shown in cats.

Huang C, Ogawa R. 2010 FASEB J. 2010 Mechanotransduction in bone repair and regeneration. 24(10):3625-3632.

Burger EH, Klein-Nulend. 1999. Mechanotransduction in bone--role of the lacuno-canalicular network. FASEB J 13(Suppl):S101-S112.

Castillo AB, et al. 2006 Low-amplitude, broad-frequency vibration effects on cortical bone formation in mice. Bone 39:1087-1096.

Xie L, et al. 2006. Low-level mechanical vibrations can influence bone resorption and bone formation in the growing skeleton. Bone 39:1059-1066.

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