The role of geranylgeranylation in bone resorption and its suppression by bisphosphonates in fetal bone explants in vitro: A clue to the mechanism of action of nitrogen-containing bisphosphonates

J Bone Miner Res. 1999 May;14(5):722-9. doi: 10.1359/jbmr.1999.14.5.722.


Bisphosphonates, synthetic compounds used in the treatment of skeletal disorders, suppress osteoclast-mediated bone resorption by a yet unidentified mechanism. Previous studies showed that some bisphosphonates can inhibit enzymes of the mevalonate pathway, and nitrogen-containing bisphosphonates inhibit protein prenylation in mouse macrophages. In the present study, we examined the involvement of the mevalonate pathway in basal and bisphosphonate-inhibited osteoclastic resorption in fetal mouse long bone explants, an experimental model representative of the in vivo action of bisphosphonates. Mevastatin inhibited bone resorption at concentrations similar to those of the potent bisphosphonate ibandronate. This effect could be totally reversed by the addition of mevalnate and geranylgeraniol but not farnesol. The first two intermediates but not the latter could also stimulate basal bone resorption. The inhibitory effect of ibandronate on bone resorption could be totally reversed by the addition of geranylgeraniol and to a small extent only by mevalonate and farnesol, indicating that the bisphosphonate acts at a level of the mevalonate pathway different from that of mevastatin. Histologic sections of ibandronate-treated bone explants showed further rescue of functioning osteoclasts during concomitant treatment with geranylgeraniol. Finally, the reversibility of bisphosphonate inhibited osteoclastic resorption by geranylgeraniol was also demonstrated for the potent nitrogen-containing bisphosphonates alendronate, olpadronate, and risedronate but not for the non-nitrogen-containing bisphosphonates clodronate and etidronate. These studies demonstrate that protein geranylgeranylation but not farnesylation is important for osteoclast-mediated bone resorption and that nitrogen-containing bisphosphonates exert their antiresorptive action probably by affecting enzymes of the mevalonate pathway involved in the generation of geranylgeranyl pyrophosphate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone Resorption*
  • Bone and Bones / embryology*
  • Culture Techniques
  • Diphosphonates / administration & dosage
  • Diphosphonates / pharmacology*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Ibandronic Acid
  • Lovastatin / administration & dosage
  • Lovastatin / analogs & derivatives
  • Lovastatin / metabolism
  • Mevalonic Acid / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Models, Chemical
  • Nitrogen / metabolism
  • Pregnancy
  • Protein Prenylation*


  • Diphosphonates
  • mevastatin
  • Lovastatin
  • Nitrogen
  • Mevalonic Acid
  • Ibandronic Acid