A new immunoassay for measuring urinary excretion of type I collagen crosslinked N-telopeptides (NTx) has been reported to be a specific and sensitive method for assessing bone resorption. We have studied factors affecting biological variations in urinary NTx excretion in a population of 452 healthy Japanese adults, comprising 238 men and 214 women, 20-79 years of age. Urinary NTx excretion increased significantly with age in women (> or = 25 years of age) (r = 0.55, p < 0.0001) and modestly correlated with lumbar bone mineral density (L-BMD) in both sexes (> or = 25 years of age) (r = 0.31, p < 0.0001 for men; r = 0.50, p < 0.0001 for women). Urinary NTx levels in women were significantly higher than in the corresponding male age groups after the fifth decade (p < 0.0001). None of the anthropometric variables (weight, height, and body mass index) showed a linear effect on the urinary NTx excretion independent of age and L-BMD. In women, menopause was reflected by a twofold increase in urinary NTx excretion, from a mean of 28-59 pmol bone collagen equivalents (BCE)/mumol creatinine, and this menopause-related increase persisted for the entire postmenopausal period. In postmenopausal women, the interindividual variations of urinary NTx excretion were much more marked than in men and in premenopausal women. Moreover, in the subgroups of pre- and postmenopausal women, urinary NTx excretion correlated with neither age nor L-BMD. These data show that the major biological factor that modifies urinary NTx level is menopause and suggest that the bone turnover rates in the elderly women are increased, on average, irrespective of bone mineral density.