Bisphosphonates: preclinical aspects and use in osteoporosis

Ann Med. 1997 Feb;29(1):55-62. doi: 10.3109/07853899708998743.


The bisphosphonates are synthetic compounds characterized by a P-C-P bond. They have a strong affinity to calcium phosphates and hence to bone mineral. In vitro they inhibit both formation and dissolution of the latter. Many of the bisphosphonates inhibit bone resorption, the newest compounds being 10,000 times more active than etidronate, the first bisphosphonate described. The antiresorbing effect is cell mediated, partly by a direct action on the osteoclasts, partly through the osteoblasts, which produce an inhibitor of osteoclastic recruitment. When given in large amounts, some bisphosphonates can also inhibit normal and ectopic mineralization through a physical-chemical inhibition of crystal growth. In the growing rat the inhibition of resorption is accompanied by an increase in intestinal absorption and an increased balance of calcium. Bisphosphonates also prevent various types of experimental osteoporosis, such as after immobilization, ovariectomy, orchidectomy, administration of corticosteroids, or low calcium diet. The P-C-P bond of the bisphosphonates is completely resistant to enzymatic hydrolysis. The bisphosphonates studied up to now, such as etidronate, clodronate, pamidronate, and alendronate, are absorbed, stored, and excreted unaltered. The intestinal absorption of the bisphosphonates is low, between 1% or less and 10% of the amount ingested. The newer bisphosphonates are at the lower end of the scale. The absorption diminishes when the compounds are given with food, especially in the presence of calcium. Bisphosphonates are rapidly cleared from plasma, 20%-80% being deposited in bone and the remainder excreted in the urine. In bone, they deposit at sites of mineralization as well as under the osteoclasts. In contrast to plasma, the half-life in bone is very long, partially as long as the half-life of the bone in which they are deposited. In humans, bisphosphonates are used successfully in diseases with increased bone turnover, such as Paget's disease, tumoural bone disease, as well as in osteoporosis. Various bisphosphonates, such as alendronate, clodronate, etidronate, ibandronate, pamidronate, and tiludronate, have been investigated in osteoporosis. All inhibit bone loss in postmenopausal women and increase bone mass. Furthermore, bisphosphonates are also effective in preventing bone loss both in corticosteroid-treated and in immobilized patients. The effect on the rate of fractures has recently been proven for alendronate. In humans, the adverse effects depend upon the compound and the amount given. For etidronate, practically the only adverse effect is an inhibition of mineralization. The aminoderivatives induce for a period of 2-3 days a syndrome with pyrexia, which shows a similitude with an acute phase reaction. The more potent compounds can induce gastrointestinal disturbances, sometimes oesophagitis, when given orally. Bisphosphonates are an important addition to the therapeutic possibilities in the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alendronate / metabolism
  • Alendronate / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Bone Resorption / drug therapy
  • Bone Resorption / physiopathology
  • Clodronic Acid / metabolism
  • Clodronic Acid / pharmacology
  • Diphosphonates / adverse effects
  • Diphosphonates / metabolism
  • Diphosphonates / pharmacology*
  • Diphosphonates / therapeutic use*
  • Etidronic Acid / metabolism
  • Etidronic Acid / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Osteoporosis / drug therapy*
  • Osteoporosis / metabolism
  • Osteoporosis / physiopathology
  • Pamidronate


  • Diphosphonates
  • Clodronic Acid
  • tiludronic acid
  • Etidronic Acid
  • Pamidronate
  • Alendronate