Long-term treatment with glucocorticoids (GCs) leads to a rapid bone loss and to a greater risk of fractures. To evaluate the specific effects of this treatment on cancellous bone remodeling, structure, and microarchitecture, we compared 22 transiliac biopsy specimens taken in postmenopausal women (65 +/- 6 years) receiving GCs (> or = 7.5 mg/day, for at least 6 months) and 22 biopsy specimens taken in age-matched women with postmenopausal osteoporosis (PMOP), all untreated and having either at least one vertebral fracture or a T score < -2.5 SD. On these biopsy specimens, we measured static and dynamic parameters reflecting trabecular bone formation and resorption. Also, we performed the strut analysis and evaluated the trabecular bone pattern factor (TBPf), Euler number/tissue volume (E/TV), interconnectivity index (ICI), and marrow star volume (MaSV). Glucocorticoid-induced osteoporosis (GIOP), when compared with PMOP, was characterized by lower bone volume (BV/TV), trabecular thickness (Tb.Th), wall thickness (W.Th), osteoid thickness (O.Th), bone formation rate/bone surface (BFR/BS), adjusted mineral apposition rate/bone surface (Aj.AR/BS), and higher ICI and resorption parameters. After adjustment for BV/TV, the W.Th remained significantly lower in GIOP (p < 0.0001). The active formation period [FP(a+)] was not different. Patients with GIOP were divided into two groups: high cumulative dose GCs (HGCs; 23.7 +/- 9.7 g) and low cumulative dose GCs (LGCs; 2.7 +/- 1.2 g). HGC when compared with LGC was characterized by lower W.Th (p < 0.05), BV/TV (p < 0.001), Tb.Th (p < 0.05), trabecular number (Tb.N; p < 0.05), FP(a+)(p < 0.05), and nodes (p < 0.05), and higher E/TV (p < 0.05), ICI (p < 0.005), and TBPf (p < 0.05). When HGC was compared with PMOP, the results were similar except for the MaSV, which was significantly higher (p < 0.005). In summary, GIOP was characterized by lower formation and higher resorption than in PMOP, already present after LGC. With HGCs, these changes were associated with a more dramatic bone loss caused by a major loss of trabecular connectivity.