In the ovariectomized (ovx) rat, the nonsteroidal antiestrogens, clomiphene (CLO) and tamoxifen (TAM), at dose levels that prevent development of osteopenia to a degree approaching that of 17beta-estradiol are, in contrast to 17beta-estradiol, only weakly uterotrophic. Metabolites of CLO and TAM might contribute differentially to these effects. Thus, we have evaluated bone protective and uterine effects in ovx rats of two such metabolites: 4-hydroxy CLO, produced by p-hydroxylation of CLO; and 4HTA, produced from TAM by stepwise replacement of its dimethylaminoethyl side chain with an acetic acid moiety, accompanied by p-hydroxylation. Also reported are effects of D4HTA, the dihydrodesethyl derivative of 4HTA previously characterized as a full estrogen mimetic in vitro. Administration of 4-hydroxy CLO (2.5 mg/kg subcutaneously) 5 days/week for 5 weeks to 3-month-old ovx rats resulted in complete prevention of bone loss and suppression of bone turnover to levels comparable to those of intact controls and to those of ovx animals similarly receiving 17beta-estradiol (10 microg/kg). However, uterine weight in animals receiving 4-hydroxy CLO was 64% less than that in 17beta-estradiol-treated animals. Although 4HTA (3.7 mg/kg s.c.) had a modest uterotrophic effect, it did not prevent bone loss associated with ovariectomy. In contrast, D4HTA (3.6 mg/kg s.c.) partially reduced bone turnover indicators and cancellous bone loss in a manner similar in many ways to that observed in TAM-treated ovx animals, but it had no uterotrophic effect. These results suggest that, although 4HTA does not contribute to the bone-protective effect of TAM, 4-hydroxy CLO might augment that of CLO.