In order to establish whether the favorable effect of estrogen therapy on postmenopausal bone loss was dose related, we measured sequential changes in the cortical diameters of the metacarpals by radiographic morphometry in 120 normal postmenopausal women who were being treated with ethinyl estradiol in doses ranging from 5 to 50 micrograms daily. There was a net loss of bone at doses below 15 micrograms per day and a net gain at doses of 25 micrograms per day and above. At doses between 15 and 25 micrograms daily, bone was neither gained nor lost. The loss of bone with the low doses was due to expansion of the medullary cavity that was unaccompanied by any change in total bone width. There was no change in bone volume with the intermediate doses because endosteal resorption of bone was offset by periosteal apposition. The net gain of bone with the higher doses occurred because endosteal resorption was totally inhibited but periosteal bone apposition continued. Thus, in postmenopausal women the reduction in the rate of cortical bone loss in response to estrogen therapy depends on the dose administered.