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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 1999 Sep;23(9):1534-42.

Chronic alcohol consumption during male rat adolescence impairs skeletal development through effects on osteoblast gene expression, bone mineral density, and bone strength.

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  • 1Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Rehabilitation, Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine, Maywood, Illinois 60153, USA.



The effect of chronic alcohol ingestion on bone formation is mediated through its direct actions on osteoblasts. The affected population of mature osteoblasts declines in both number and function resulting in decreased cancellous bone volume and cortical bone strength. Although the mechanism of action on osteoblasts is unknown, alcohol alters osteoblast gene expression and matrix synthesis.


Male rats consuming alcohol (EtOH) daily for 60 days from 35 days of age until 95 days of age (unrecovered group) were compared to rats switched to a regular diet of rat chow without EtOH for an additional 90 days (recovered group). The effects of chronic dietary EtOH on skeletal development during adolescence were examined in the unrecovered and recovered rats by hormonal analysis, bone mineral density determination, bone histomorphometry, metaphyseal gene expression for osteoblast-specific proteins, and biomechanical analysis.


The unrecovered EtOH imbibing rats weighed less than their paired isocaloric-fed and ad libitum mates. Statistically significant reductions occurred in femur lengths in the unrecovered EtOH-fed group compared to controls. Serum testosterone levels were significantly decreased by EtOH consumption but returned to higher normal levels during the recovery period. Serum insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) levels were unaffected by EtOH. Serum osteocalcin levels in the unrecovered EtOH-fed group were higher than those in the recovered group but EtOH intake did not elevate the unrecovered levels compared to isocaloric or ad libitum control rats. Quantitative computed tomography (QCT) determination of bone mineral density (BMD) revealed a statistically significant reduction only in the distal femur metaphysis in the unrecovered EtOH-fed rats. BMD increased during recovery in the distal femur metaphysis and femur mid-cortex. Image analysis of midsagittal sections of the proximal tibial metaphysis of unrecovered rats revealed reductions in cancellous area, trabecular cellularity and thickness, and increased trabecular separation. Cortical widths were significantly reduced by chronic EtOH consumption. These changes remained statistically significant at the end of the recovery period. Four-point biomechanical testing of femurs from EtOH-fed and control unrecovered groups revealed significant reductions in cortical strength, energy-to-failure, and stiffness. These cortical characteristics returned to normal values with abstinence. Tibial metaphyseal alpha-1 type I collagen and osteocalcin mRNA expression levels were significantly elevated above the paired isocaloric control levels after 60 days of EtOH consumption. Metaphyseal alkaline phosphatase mRNA levels remained unaltered by EtOH consumption in the unrecovered group. After 90 days of abstinence alpha-1 type I collagen and alkaline phosphatase gene expression levels remained significantly elevated over the isocaloric and ad libitum control levels (collagen) and the isocaloric control value (alkaline phosphatase). However, metaphyseal osteocalcin mRNA levels declined to normal levels during abstinence.


Chronic consumption of EtOH during the peripubertal period of skeletal growth leads directly to decreased metaphyseal and cortical bone mediated through effects on osteoblasts. Removal of EtOH from the diet is accompanied by incomplete restoration of normal bone metabolism during skeletal growth.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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