Bone mineral density (BMD) and fracture risk are under genetic control. An association of a G to T polymorphism in the Sp1 binding site of the collagen Ia1 (COLIa1) gene with the risk for fractures has been previously reported. This association is only partly explained by differences in BMD. Thus, we analyzed the relationship between the COLIa1 Sp1 polymorphism and ultrasound (US) transmission velocity (speed of sound; SOS) in bone. In a population-based sample of 740 women (aged 55-80 years) we determined COLIa1 genotype and US parameters in the calcaneus. SOS in the "GG" genotype group was 1522 +/- 31 m/sec, in the "GT" group, 1519 +/- 30 m/sec, and in the "TT" group 1508 +/- 30 m/sec (P = 0.01). While the difference between the GG and TT genotype groups corresponds to 0.5 SD or 1%, we observed an allele-dose-effect of 4.3 m/sec decrease in SOS per each copy of the "T" allele (P = 0.01). The differences remained significant after adjustment for BMD measured at the femoral neck. When we analysed 45 incident nonvertebral fractures in this group of women, we found the risk for fracture by COLIA1 Sp1 genotype to be partly explained by SOS differences as well as by BMD differences. Linear regression analysis showed a progressive negative slope of the regression line of SOS over age from "GG" over "GT" to "TT" genotype. These data indicate that the collagen Ia1 Sp1 polymorphism is associated with the modulus of elasticity of bone as determined in vivo by acoustical measurement. The relationship is independent of BMD and increases with age, contributing to an explanation of the increased fracture risk observed for this polymorphism.