Serum osteocalcin (OC) and bone-specific alkaline phosphatase (B-ALP), reflecting bone formation, and urinary pyridinoline cross-link (Pyr) excretion, reflecting bone resorption, have been measured in 27 patients with hyperthyroidism and 30 age-matched controls using direct and novel immunoassays. Hyperthyroid patients had higher (P < 0.001) levels of all 3 markers compared with control values: Pyr, 246 +/- 181 nmol/mmol creatinine vs. 40 +/- 12 (+515%); OC, 55 +/- 23 vs. 23 +/- 7.4 micrograms/L (+139%); and B-ALP, 22 +/- 17 vs. 10.0 +/- 5.0 micrograms/L (+120%). OC and Pyr levels were elevated above the normal range in most patients and were significantly correlated with serum free T3 concentrations (r = 0.53; P < 0.01 and r = 0.76; P < 0.001; for OC and Pyr, respectively). B-ALP levels were elevated in 11 of the 27 patients and did not correlate with serum thyroid hormone concentrations. After therapy for hyperthyroidism, Pyr and OC levels returned to normal within 1 month, whereas B-ALP transiently increased after 1 month before falling to baseline levels. The relapse of hyperthyroidism observed in 1 patient was associated with a steep increase in bone markers. These results indicate that Pyr, measured using a new and convenient immunoassay, is a highly sensitive marker for altered bone metabolism in hyperthyroidism. The increases in OC and B-ALP were less impressive, suggesting an imbalance between resorption and formation with subsequent rapid bone loss in untreated hyperthyroidism. OC and B-ALP also appear to reflect different aspects of osteoblast metabolism during the treatment of hyperthyroid patients.