Three groups (n = 15/group) of 6-, 12- and 30-month-old (mature, old and senescent animals, respectively) female Wistar rats on a diet (6 g/100 g BW/day) containing 0.8% calcium and 0.8% inorganic phosphorus were studied. Within each group, 10 rats were ovariectomized surgically and 5 injected s.c. with 17β-estradiol (E rats, 10 µg/kg BW/48 h) and 5 with solvent alone (OVX rats) from day 2 until day 60 after ovariectomy. Five other rats were sham-operated (SH rats) and received solvent only. All rats were killed by exsanguination 60 days after ovariectomy. Neither ovariectomy nor estradiol treatment had a significant effect upon tibial mechanical properties in 6-, 12- and 30-month-old animals. Bone mineral density (BMD) and bone mineral content (BMC) of the distal femur and BMC of the whole femur were decreased by ovariectomy in 6- and 12-month-old rats, but were not different in the SH and E groups. In senescent animals, in which the lowest BMD and BMC were measured, estradiol treatment was more effective in increasing these parameters than in adult and old rats. Image analysis of the distal femoral diaphysis showed that estradiol treatment prevented trabecular bone loss induced by senescence and/or ovariectomy. In each group, urinary deoxypyridinoline excretion and plasma osteocalcin concentration were higher in the OVX animals than in the controls, consistent with increased bone turnover in the estrogen-deficient state. Both biochemical turnover markers were reduced in the estrogen-treated groups. These results indicate that 17β-estradiol is particularly effective at preventing high-turnover-induced osteopenia in 30-month-old animals.

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