Patients with beta-thalassemia major (beta-thalassemia) frequently have bone disorders of multifactorial etiology. We attempted to analyze the relationship between the bone mineral density ([BMD] measured by dual-photon absorptiometry) and auxanologic parameters, degree of siderosis, function of the growth hormone (GH)/insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I)/IGF-binding protein-3 (IGFBP3) axis, calcium-phosphate balance, parathyroid hormone (PTH), and cytokines (interleukin-1beta [IL-1] and tumor necrosis factor-alpha [TNF-alpha]) in 30 prepubertal children with beta-thalassemia major and 15 age-matched children with constitutional short stature (CSS), who have normal glucose tolerance and thyroid function. Children with beta-thalassemia had a significantly decreased BMD and mean BMD% for age and sex (0.75+/-0.24 g/cm2 and 71%+/-10%, respectively) versus children with CSS (1.06+/-0.3 g/cm2 and 92%+/-7%, respectively). Thalassemic patients had significantly lower circulating concentrations of IGF-I and IGFBP3 (49+/-21 ng/mL and 1.2+/-0.25 mg/L, respectively) compared with control children (153+/-42 ng/mL and 2.1+/-0.37 mg/L, respectively). The GH response to provocation by clonidine and glucagon was defective (peak GH < 7 microg/L) in 12 of the 30 thalassemic children. Serum concentrations of IL-1beta and TNF-alpha did not differ among the two study groups. Hypocalcemia was detected in five of the 30 thalassemic patients: hypoparathyroidism was diagnosed in two of the five and rickets in the other three. BMD was highly correlated with the circulating concentrations of IGF-I and IGFBP3, as well as with the auxanologic parameters (age, weight, height, height standard deviation score [HSDS], and body mass index [BMI]). It is suggested that increasing the circulating IGF-I concentration through aggressive nutritional therapy and/or GH/IGF-I therapy with supplementation with vitamin D and/or calcium might improve bone growth and mineralization and prevent the development of osteoporosis and consequent fractures in these patients. Such therapy requires blinded controlled trials.