Although controversy remains regarding direct effects of estrogen on bone, in vivo data clearly show that estrogens suppress bone turnover, resulting in decreased bone resorption and formation activity. Selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs), such as raloxifene, produce effects on bone which are very similar to those of estrogen. In vitro, both raloxifene and estrogen inhibit mammalian osteoclast differentiation and bone resorption activity, but only in the presence of IL-6. Data from a number of ovariectomized rat model manipulations (i.e. hypophysectomy, low calcium diet and drug combinations) demonstrate a strong parallel between the antiosteopenic effects of raloxifene and estrogen. A characteristic action of estrogens on the skeleton is inhibition of longitudinal bone growth, an effect which is not observed with other resorption inhibitors, including calcitonin and bisphosphonates. Consistent with an estrogen-like mechanism on bone, raloxifene inhibits longitudinal bone growth in growing rats. In addition to the overall similarity of the bone activity profile in animals, estrogen and raloxifene also produce similar effects on various signaling pathways relative to the antiosteopenic effect of these two agents. For example, IL-6, a cytokine involved in high turnover bone resorption following estrogen deficiency in rats, is suppressed by both raloxifene and estrogen. Raloxifene and estrogen also produce a similar activation of TGF-beta3 (a cytokine associated with inhibition of osteoclast differentiation and activity) in ovariectomized rats. Like 17beta-estradiol, raloxifene binds with high affinity to both estrogen receptor-alpha (ER alpha) and estrogen receptor-beta (ER beta). Crystal structure analyses have shown that 17beta-estradiol and raloxifene bind to ER alpha with small, but important, differences in three dimensional structure. These subtle differences in the conformation of the ligand:receptor complex are likely the basis for the key pharmacological differences between estrogens and the various SERMs (i.e. raloxifene vs tamoxifen). Raloxifene also produces estrogen-like effects on serum cholesterol metabolism and the vasculature. Thus, while raloxifene exhibits a complete estrogen antagonist in mammary tissue and the uterus, it produces beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system and prevents bone loss via an estrogen receptor mediated mechanism.