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Chapter: Basic & Clinical Pharmacology : Agents That Affect Bone Mineral Homeostasis

Secondary Hormonal Regulators of Bone Mineral Homeostasis

A number of hormones modulate the actions of PTH, FGF23, and vitamin D in regulating bone mineral homeostasis.


A number of hormones modulate the actions of PTH, FGF23, and vitamin D in regulating bone mineral homeostasis. Compared with that of PTH, FGF23, and vitamin D, the physiologic impact of such secondary regulation on bone mineral homeostasis is minor. However, in pharmacologic amounts, several of these hormones, including calcitonin, glucocorticoids, and estrogens, have actions on bone mineral homeostatic mechanisms that can be exploited therapeutically.


The calcitonin secreted by the parafollicular cells of the mamma-lian thyroid is a single-chain peptide hormone with 32 amino acids and a molecular weight of 3600. A disulfide bond between positions 1 and 7 is essential for biologic activity. Calcitonin is produced from a precursor with MW 15,000. The circulating forms of calcitonin are multiple, ranging in size from the monomer (MW 3600) to forms with an apparent MW of 60,000. Whether such heterogeneity includes precursor forms or covalently linked oligomers is not known. Because of its chemical heterogeneity, calcitonin preparations are standardized by bioassay in rats. Activity is compared to a standard maintained by the British Medical Research Council (MRC) and expressed as MRC units.

Human calcitonin monomer has a half-life of about 10 minutes. Salmon calcitonin has a longer half-life, making it more attractive as a therapeutic agent. Much of the clearance occurs in the kidney by metabolism; little intact calcitonin appears in the urine.

The principal effects of calcitonin are to lower serum calcium and phosphate by actions on bone and kidney. Calcitonin inhibits osteoclastic bone resorption. Although bone formation is not impaired at first after calcitonin administration, with time both formation and resorption of bone are reduced. In the kidney, calcitonin reduces both calcium and phosphate reabsorption as well as reabsorption of other ions, including sodium, potassium, and magnesium. Tissues other than bone and kidney are also affected by calcitonin. Calcitonin in pharmacologic amounts decreases gastrin secretion and reduces gastric acid output while increasing secretion of sodium, potassium, chloride, and water in the gut. Pentagastrin is a potent stimulator of calcitonin secretion (as is hypercalcemia), suggesting a possible physiologic relation-ship between gastrin and calcitonin. In the adult human, no read-ily demonstrable problem develops in cases of calcitonin deficiency (thyroidectomy) or excess (medullary carcinoma of the thyroid). However, the ability of calcitonin to block bone resorption and lower serum calcium makes it a useful drug for the treatment of Paget’s disease, hypercalcemia, and osteoporosis.


Glucocorticoid hormones alter bone mineral homeostasis by antagonizing vitamin D-stimulated intestinal calcium transport, stimulating renal calcium excretion, and blocking bone formation. Although these observations underscore the negative impact of glucocorticoids on bone mineral homeostasis, these hormones have proved useful in reversing the hypercalcemia associated with lymphomas and granulomatous diseases such as sarcoidosis (in which unregulated ectopic production of 1,25[OH]2D occurs) or incases of vitamin D intoxication. Prolonged administration of glucocorticoids is a common cause of osteoporosis in adults and can cause stunted skeletal development in children.


Estrogens can prevent accelerated bone loss during the immediate postmenopausal period and at least transiently increase bone in postmenopausal women.The prevailing hypothesis advanced to explain these observa-tions is that estrogens reduce the bone-resorbing action of PTH. Estrogen administration leads to an increased 1,25(OH)2D level in blood, but estrogens have no direct effect on 1,25(OH)2D produc-tion in vitro. The increased 1,25(OH)2D levels in vivo following estrogen treatment may result from decreased serum calcium and phosphate and increased PTH. Estrogen receptors have been found in bone, and estrogen has direct effects on bone remodeling. Case reports of men who lack the estrogen receptor or who are unable to produce estrogen because of aromatase deficiency noted marked osteopenia and failure to close epiphyses. This further substantiates the role of estrogen in bone development, even in men. The prin-cipal therapeutic application for estrogen administration in disor-ders of bone mineral homeostasis is the treatment or prevention of postmenopausal osteoporosis. However, long-term use of estrogen has fallen out of favor due to concern about adverse effects. Selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) have been devel-oped to retain the beneficial effects on bone while minimizing deleterious effects on breast, uterus, and the cardiovascular system.

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