Objective: The prevalence of osteoarthritis (OA) increases dramatically in women after the age of 50. Animal models are used to study the effects of hormone depletion [by ovariectomy (OVX)] and estrogen treatment on OA. This review summarizes these animal studies, in order to get a better insight in the role of hormones on OA.
Method: The literature was systematically reviewed until May 2007. The results were divided into two parts: the effect of OVX on cartilage, and the effect of estrogen treatment on cartilage. Only studies with an appropriate control group (e.g., sham-operated) were included.
Results and discussion: Eleven out of 16 animal studies showed that OVX resulted in cartilage damage. When only studies using sexually mature animals were included, we saw that 11 out of 14 studies showed a detrimental effect, indicating considerable evidence for a relation between cartilage degeneration and OVX in mature animals. The effect of estrogen treatment was inconclusive with only 11 out of 22 animal studies reporting a beneficial effect on cartilage, whereas all six studies administering selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) after OVX described protective effects. The discrepancy between the studies may be caused by the large variation in experimental set-up. We suggested a list of quality criteria for animal models since standardisation of design and outcome parameters of animal experiments may help to compare different studies and to gain better insight in the role of hormones in the osteoarthritic process.