Biochemical markers of bone metabolism: an overview

Clin Biochem. 1997 Dec;30(8):573-93. doi: 10.1016/s0009-9120(97)00113-6.


Objectives: An overview of biochemical markers of bone metabolism is presented along with indications for their clinical utilization.

Design and methods: The structure, cyclical metabolism, and hormone regulation of bone is reflected by markers of resorption, formation and/or turnover. Markers of resorption representing degradation of type 1 collagen, include N-telopeptides, C-telopeptides, hydroxyproline, and the collagen crosslinks pyridinoline and deoxypyridinoline; acid phosphatase, a marker of osteoclast activity, and urinary calcium are also indicators of bone resorption. Bone formation markers indicate osteoblast activity; bone-specific alkaline phosphatase and the N-terminal and C-terminal extension peptides of procollagen reflect formation of organic matrix in bone. Osteocalcin, produced by osteoblasts but also released during osteoclastic degradation, may indicate either formation when resorption and formation are coupled or turnover when they are uncoupled.

Results: Bone markers respond to intervention more rapidly than techniques such bone mineral density. Resorption markers respond approximately 1 to 3 months after intervention; markers of formation respond later, after 6 to 9 months. Bone markers may add useful information for assessing fracture risk and for monitoring osteoporosis, Paget's disease of bone, cancer metastasis, and metabolic disease. Various therapeutic interventions may affect release of some bone markers.

Conclusion: Bone disease has high prevalence in adults so bone markers will become even more important for assessing fracture risk and monitoring therapy as populations age. Characteristics of bone markers are dependent on biology and the assay used. Substantial work remains in characterizing existing assays, identifying better markers and performing the clinical studies to define which bone markers should be measured and when.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acid Phosphatase / analysis
  • Alkaline Phosphatase / analysis
  • Biomarkers / chemistry
  • Bone Resorption / physiopathology
  • Bone and Bones / metabolism*
  • Calcium / urine
  • Humans
  • Osteocalcin / analysis
  • Osteoporosis / metabolism


  • Biomarkers
  • Osteocalcin
  • Alkaline Phosphatase
  • Acid Phosphatase
  • Calcium