Introduction: The mechanism(s) by which sex steroids regulate bone turnover in humans are unclear, and recent studies have suggested that follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) may play an important role in regulating bone resorption.
Materials and methods: Fifty-nine men (median age, 69 yr) underwent suppression of sex steroids using a gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonist and aromatase blocker and were replaced with testosterone (T; 5 mg/d) and estradiol (E; 37.5 microg/d). After assessment of bone resorption markers (serum C-terminal telopeptide of type I collagen [CTX] and TRACP5b), they were randomized to sex steroid deficiency (-T, -E), E alone (-T, +E), T alone (+T, -E), or both (+T, +E) and restudied 3 wk later. Bone marrow aspirates were obtained to isolate osteoblastic, T, and monocytic cells using magnetic-activated cell sorting.
Results: Serum CTX and TRACP5b increased significantly (by 71% and 15%, p < 0.01 and < 0.001, respectively) in the -T, -E group, and these increases occurred despite a 60% suppression of serum FSH levels (p < 0.001) caused by the GnRH agonist. There were significant E (but not T) effects on preventing increases in serum CTx and TRACP levels. There was a nonsignificant trend (p = 0.122) for E to suppress RANKL mRNA levels in bone marrow osteoblastic cells. Changes in mRNA levels for other cytokines (TNF-alpha, interleukin (IL)-1alpha, IL-1beta, IL-1ra, IFN-gamma) in bone marrow cells were not significant.
Conclusions: E has greater suppressive effects on bone resorption than T, and increased bone resorption after sex steroid deficiency can occur independently of changes in FSH secretion. E effects on bone resorption may be mediated by regulation of RANKL production by osteoblastic cells, although further studies using more highly purified cells may reduce the variability of the mRNA measurements and allow for clearer definition of the mediators of sex steroid action in vivo.