Total parenteral nutrition is associated with osteopenia in preterm infants. Insufficient calcium and phosphate are likely causes: aluminum contamination is another possible contributing factor as this adversely affects bone formation and mineralization. The study was designed to evaluate changes in biochemical markers of bone turnover in 22 preterm infants receiving total parenteral nutrition in comparison with 19 term infants. We collected urine and serum samples from 22 preterm infants, mean gestational age 29 wk, within 48 h and again at 3 wk of life. We also collected urine samples from 19 term infants, mean gestational age 39 wk, during the first day of life. Bone resorption was assessed by the measurement of urinary pyridinium cross-links by HPLC and ELISA and the N-telopeptide of type I collagen by ELISA. Bone formation was assessed in premature infants by the measurement of serum osteocalcin. The N-telopeptide of type I collagen was higher in the preterm infants compared with term at baseline (p < 0.01). There was no difference between the pyridinium cross-links in the preterm and term infants. All the biochemical markers of bone turnover increased significantly in the preterm infants during the first 3 wk of life, e.g. N-telopeptide was a 153% change from baseline (p < 0.001). Aluminum in the total parenteral nutrition solutions did not cause a decrease in bone formation at the level administered (3-6 microg, 0.1-0.2 micromol x kg(-1) x d(-1)).