To examine the interactions between estrogen deficiency and glucocorticoid excess on bone metabolism the osteopenic effects of a standard dose of prednisolone (2 mg/kg BW.day) were studied in sham-ovariectomized (Sham-OVX), ovariectomized (OVX), and OVX rats given replacement beta-estradiol (OVX + E2). For 12 weeks six groups of female albino rats aged 4 months which had their skeletons labeled with 45Ca were fed matched amounts of low-calcium (0.1% Ca) hydroxyproline-free diet. The six treatment groups were: group 1, Sham-OVX; group 2, Sham-OVX + prednisolone; group 3, OVX; group 4, OVX + prednisolone; group 5, OVX + E2; group 6, OVX + E2 + prednisolone. Bone resorption was estimated by studying the urinary excretion of hydroxyproline and 45Ca. Parathyroid function was assessed indirectly from urinary cAMP excretion. Treatments did not influence parathyroid activity or serum levels of calcium or 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D. However, ovariectomy increased bone resorption and induced osteopenia whereas prednisolone decreased bone resorption and formation and caused osteopenia. Ovariectomy increased the rate of bone resorption in prednisolone-treated rats; prednisolone lowered the rates of bone resorption and formation in OVX rats. The osteopenic effects of prednisolone and ovariectomy were additive and independent. E2 protected bone from the osteopenic effects of ovariectomy but did not affect bone loss induced by prednisolone. These results suggest prophylactic estrogen should help to avoid bone loss from estrogen deficiency in patients requiring chronic high dose glucocorticoid treatment.