Hypogonadism is associated with osteoporosis in men. GnRH- agonist-induced hypogonadism increases bone turnover and bone loss in men, but the mechanism underlying these changes is unknown. To determine whether gonadal steroid deprivation increases the skeletal sensitivity to PTH or blunts the ability of PTH to promote 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D formation, we infused human PTH-(1-34) at a dose of 0.55 U/kg.h for 24 h, in 11 men (ages, 50-82 yr) with locally advanced, node-positive, or biochemically recurrent prostate cancer but no evidence of bone metastases. PTH infusions were performed before initiation of GnRH agonist therapy (leuprolide acetate, 22.5 mg im, every 3 months) and again after 6 months of confirmed GnRH agonist-induced hypogonadism. Serum osteocalcin (OC), bone- specific alkaline phosphatase (BSAP), N-telopeptide (NTX), whole-blood ionized calcium, and 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D were measured at baseline and every 6 h during each PTH infusion. Urinary NTX and free deoxypyridinoline (DPD) were assessed on spot morning samples before PTH infusion and on 24-h samples collected during the PTH infusions. Sex steroid levels were lowered to the castrate range in all subjects. Baseline serum NTX levels (drawn before PTH infusion) increased from 9.1 +/- 3.7 before leuprolide therapy to 13.9 +/- 5.0 nmol bone collagen equivalents (BCE)/L after leuprolide therapy (P = 0.003). Spot urine NTX collected before PTH infusion increased from 28 +/- 8 before leuprolide therapy to 49 +/- 17 nmol BCE/mmol creatinine after leuprolide therapy (P < 0.001), and urinary DPD increased from 4.7 +/- 1.1 to 7.4 +/- 1.8 nmol BCE/mmol creatinine (P < 0.001). Baseline serum OC and BSAP levels drawn before each PTH infusion did not change before vs. after leuprolide therapy. Serum NTX levels increased significantly during PTH infusion pre-GnRH agonist therapy (P < 0.001), and the rate of increase was greater after 6 months of GnRH agonist-induced hypogonadism (P < 0.01 for the difference in rates of change before and after GnRH agonist administration). Serum OC and BSAP levels decreased during PTH infusion (P < 0.001 for OC and P = 0.002 for BSAP), but the rates of decrease did not differ before or after leuprolide therapy (P = 0.45 for OC and P: = 0.19 for BSAP). Whole-blood ionized calcium levels increased during PTH infusion (P < 0.001), and the rate of increase was greater after GnRH agonist-induced hypogonadism (P = 0.068). Serum 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D levels increased in response to PTH infusion before leuprolide therapy (P = 0.022), but there was no difference in the rate of increase before or after leuprolide therapy (P = 0.66). The incremental increase in urinary NTX excretion, but not DPD, during PTH infusion was greater after 6 months of leuprolide therapy (P = 0.029 for NTX, P = 0.578 for DPD). We conclude that suppression of sex steroids in elderly men increases the skeletal responsiveness to the bone resorbing effects of PTH infusion but does not affect the response of bone formation markers or 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D to PTH. Changes in skeletal sensitivity to PTH may play an important role in the pathogenesis of hypogonadal bone loss in men.