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Clin Chem. 1999 Aug;45(8 Pt 2):1359-68.

Clinical utility of biochemical markers of bone remodeling.

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Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA.


Remodeling is essential for bone health. It begins with resorption of old bone by osteoclasts, followed by the formation of new bone by osteoblasts. Remodeling is coupled (formation is linked to resorption). After middle age or perhaps beginning earlier, bone loss occurs because resorption exceeds formation. This imbalance is accentuated by estrogen deficiency as well as by many diseases and conditions. Biochemical markers that reflect remodeling and can be measured in blood or urine include resorption markers (e.g., collagen cross-links) and formation markers (e.g., alkaline phosphatase). Bone markers exhibit substantial short-term and long-term fluctuations related to time of day, phase of the menstrual cycle, and season of the year, as well as diet, exercise, and anything else that alters bone remodeling. These biological factors, in addition to assay imprecision, produce significant intra- and interindividual variability in markers. Bone marker measurements are noninvasive, inexpensive, and can be repeated often. Unfortunately, most of the studies that provided insight on clinical situations did not focus on markers as a primary endpoint. Bone markers have been useful in clinical practice and have been helpful in understanding the pathogenesis of osteoporosis and the mechanism of action of therapies. In clinical trials, markers aid in selecting optimal dose and in understanding the time course of onset and resolution of treatment effect. Clinical questions that might be answered by bone markers include diagnosing osteoporosis, identifying "fast bone losers" and patients at high risk of fracture, selecting the best treatment for osteoporosis, and providing an early indication of the response to treatment. Additional information is needed to define specific situations and cut points to allow marker results to be used with confidence in making decisions about individual patients.

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