Estrogen, cytokines, and pathogenesis of postmenopausal osteoporosis

J Bone Miner Res. 1996 Aug;11(8):1043-51. doi: 10.1002/jbmr.5650110802.


In summary, available data demonstrate that IL-1 and TNF are the causative agents underlying the bone loss induced by estrogen deficiency. Indeed, these factors are produced in bone and the bone marrow, released in larger amounts from cells of estrogen-deficient subjects, and indispensable for reproducing the effects of estrogen deficiency in bone. These observations support the hypothesis that the bone sparing effect of estrogen is due to the ability of the hormone to block osteoclastogenesis, the activation of mature osteoclasts and, as recently demonstrated, the rate of apoptotic osteoclast death. Although IL-1 and TNF play a prominent causal role in these events, the bone-sparing effect of estrogen is mediated by numerous cytokines which, by simultaneously stimulating multiple target cells, induce effects that are not accounted for by any one single factor (Fig. 2). The ability of estrogen to regulate some, but not all, the cytokines involved in this process is not inconsistent with this hypothesis because cytokines have potent synergistic effects. Thus, a considerable increase in bone resorption may result from a relatively small increase in the concentration of only a few of the bone-resorbing factors present in the bone microenvironment. This concept is best illustrated by the study of Miyaura et al. demonstrating that the concentrations of either IL-1, IL-6, IL-6 receptor, or prostaglandins detected in the bone marrow of OVX mice are insufficient to account for the increased bone resorption caused by estrogen withdrawal. In contrast, the increase in bone resorption induced by OVX can be explained by the cumulative effects of these cytokines. Thus, a better understanding of the cooperative effects of cytokines and a recognition that the contribution of individual cytokines to postmenopausal bone loss varies with the passage of time after menopause are necessary to fully understand the mechanism of action of estrogen in bone. Although the relevance of individual bone-targeting cytokines in species specific, the development of transgenic mice with activatable or deactivatable promoters is likely to result in a further clarification of the integrated action of estrogen-regulated cytokines in human bone cells and lay the foundations for the use of cytokine inhibitors in the treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone Resorption / drug therapy
  • Bone Resorption / metabolism
  • Bone and Bones / physiopathology
  • Cytokines / biosynthesis
  • Cytokines / physiology*
  • Estrogen Replacement Therapy
  • Estrogens / deficiency
  • Estrogens / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Menopause / physiology
  • Osteoporosis, Postmenopausal / drug therapy
  • Osteoporosis, Postmenopausal / etiology
  • Osteoporosis, Postmenopausal / physiopathology*


  • Cytokines
  • Estrogens