Effects of estrogen deficiency and bisphosphonate therapy on osteocyte viability and microdamage accumulation in an ovine model of osteoporosis.

It has been proposed that osteocyte viability plays an important role in bone integrity, and that bone loss in osteoporosis may be partially due to osteocyte cell death following estrogen depletion. Osteoporosis treatments such as bisphosphonates can inhibit osteocyte apoptosis which in turn may also reduce remodeling. Consequently, microcracks in bone which are normally repaired by bone remodeling may accumulate. This study used an ovine model of osteoporosis to examine the effects of estrogen depletion and bisphosphonates on osteocyte apoptosis and microdamage accumulation. Skeletally mature ewes were randomly assigned into two equal groups; ovariectomy (OVX) and a non-treatment group (control). Half of these animals were sacrificed 12 months post-OVX. Twenty months post-OVX, a number of OVX animals were randomly selected and each received a supra-pharmacological dose of the bisphosphonate, zoledronic acid (Zol). This group and all the remaining animals were sacrificed 31 months post-OVX. A compact bone specimen was removed from the left metacarpal of each animal; half was used for osteocyte apoptosis detection and the remainder for microdamage analysis. Estrogen deficiency resulted in significant increases in the levels of osteocyte apoptosis while zoledronic acid significantly reduced the level of apoptosis in osteocytes. Zoledronic acid treatment resulted in the formation of more microcracks. However, these cracks were shorter than in control or OVX groups which may provide one explanation as to why increased damage levels following bisphosphonate treatment have not lead to increased fractures. This study also provides additional evidence of the importance of estrogen in preserving the osteocyte network. © 2010 Orthopaedic Research Society Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Orthop Res.