Evidence that type I osteoporosis results from enhanced responsiveness of bone to estrogen deficiency

B. Lawrence Riggs, Sundeep Khosla, Elizabeth J. Atkinson, Colin R. Dunstan, L. Joseph Melton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


Type I osteoporosis occurs within 20 years after menopause and is associated with excessive cancellous bone loss and fractures of the vertebrae and distal radius. We have suggested that it may be caused by estrogen deficiency plus some additional factor predisposing to excessive bone loss. One such factor might be a greater degree of sex steroid deficiency, a possibility that could not be previously excluded because assays of sufficient sensitivity have only recently become available. Thus, we studied 36 women with vertebral fractures due to typical high turnover type I postmenopausal osteoporosis and 36 normal postmenopausal women using new ultrasensitive assays with detection limits of 1 pg/ml for estradiol, 5 pg/ml for estrone and 5 ng/dl for testosterone to test if type I osteoporosis results from enhanced responsiveness of bone to estrogen deficiency. Mean levels of serum sex steroids were identical in both groups, but bone turnover was increased by up to 55% in the women with type I osteoporosis. Moreover, compared with controls, the osteoporotic women had a 51% higher (P < 0.01) serum osteoprotegerin level, which was likely a compensatory response to the increased bone turnover. In the osteoporotic women, 1-year treatment with transdermal estrogen in 14 women reduced total deoxypyridinoline, an index of bone resorption, by 58% as compared with placebo treatment in 17 women (P < 0.001). Thus, as compared to controls, postmenopausal osteoporotic women had comparable sex steroid levels but higher bone turnover levels that were responsive to estrogen therapy. This is consistent with the hypothesis that the greater bone loss in type I osteoporosis is the result of impaired responsiveness of bone to low postmenopausal levels of sex steroids.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)728-733
Number of pages6
JournalOsteoporosis International
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2003


  • Bone loss
  • Estradiol
  • Testosterone
  • Transdermal estrogen

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism


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