Estrogen promotes apoptosis of murine osteoclasts mediated by TGF-beta

Nat Med. 1996 Oct;2(10):1132-6. doi: 10.1038/nm1096-1132.


Postmenopausal osteoporosis, the most common bone disease in the developed world, is associated with estrogen deficiency. This deficiency induces increased generation and activity of osteoclasts, which perforate bone trabeculae, thus reducing their strength and increasing fracture risk. Estrogen replacement prevents these effects, indicating that estrogen negatively regulates osteoclast formation and function, but how it does this is unclear. Because functional osteoclast life span and thus the amount of bone that osteoclasts resorb could also be enhanced following estrogen deficiency, and since sex steroids regulate apoptosis in other target tissues, we investigated whether estrogen may affect osteoclast function by promoting apoptosis. 17 beta-Estradiol promoted apoptosis of murine osteoclasts in vitro and in vivo by two- to threefold. Tamoxifen, which has estrogenic effects on bone resorption, and transforming growth factor-beta 1 (TGF-beta), whose production by osteoblasts is increased by estrogen, had similar effects in vitro. Anti-TGF-beta antibody inhibited TGF-beta-, estrogen- and tamoxifen-induced osteoclast apoptosis, indicating that TGF-beta might mediate this effect. These findings suggest that estrogen may prevent excessive bone loss before and after the menopause by limiting osteoclast life span through promotion of apoptosis. The development of analogues to promote this mechanism specifically could be a useful and novel therapeutic approach to prevent postmenopausal osteoporosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Bone Resorption / physiopathology
  • Bone Resorption / prevention & control
  • Bone and Bones / pathology
  • Cell Count
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Estradiol / pharmacology*
  • Estrogen Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Organ Size / drug effects
  • Osteoblasts / drug effects
  • Osteoblasts / metabolism
  • Osteoclasts / drug effects*
  • Osteoclasts / physiology
  • Osteoporosis, Postmenopausal / metabolism*
  • Osteoporosis, Postmenopausal / pathology
  • Ovariectomy
  • Tamoxifen / pharmacology
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / metabolism
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / pharmacology*
  • Uterus / pathology


  • Estrogen Antagonists
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta
  • Tamoxifen
  • Estradiol