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Arthritis Rheum. 1999 Oct;42(10):2103-11.

Estrogen replacement therapy modulation of the insulin-like growth factor system in monkey knee joints.

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University of Bristol, UK.



Epidemiologic studies have suggested that estrogen replacement therapy may lower the risk of osteoarthritis in women, but the mechanism of this effect is unknown. Since estrogen acts in other tissues in part through regulation of the insulin-like growth factor (IGF) system as well as cytokines including interleukin-6 (IL-6), we determined whether estrogen replacement regulates the levels of these factors in synovial fluid (SF).


Levels of IGF-1, IGF-2, IGF binding proteins (IGFBP) 1-3, and IL-6 were measured in SF samples obtained from 67 female adult cynomolgus monkeys that had been ovariectomized and treated for 30 months in 1 of 3 groups. Group 1 (n = 24) had no estrogen replacement (control), group 2 (n = 22) received estrogen (Premarin) at the human equivalent of 0.625 mg/day, and group 3 (n = 21) received estrogen at the same dose as group 2, plus progesterone (Provera) at the equivalent of 2.5 mg/day.


Compared with controls, estrogen-treated monkeys had 2-fold higher SF levels of IGF-1 (P < 0.001), 1.7-fold higher IGF-2 (P < 0.006), 5.9-fold higher IGFBP-1 (P < 0.02), and 2.5-fold higher IGFBP-3 (P < 0.001). Estrogen plus progesterone-treated monkeys had SF levels of IGF-1, IGF-2, IGFBP-1, and IGFBP-3 that were intermediate between the levels in the control and estrogen groups, except that the level of IGFBP-3 was significantly greater than that in the control group (P < 0.001). SF levels of IGFBP-2 and IL-6 did not differ by treatment group. Treatment group did not affect the serum levels of IGF-1 and IL-6, but IGF-2 and IGFBP-3 were increased by 1.6- and 1.8-fold, respectively, in the estrogen group (P < 0.001). There was no correlation between changes in serum and SF levels of IGF components, except for a weak correlation for IGFBP-3 levels from control (r = 0.464, P = 0.04) and estrogen-treated (r = 0.577, P = 0.008) animals.


This study demonstrates a significant effect of estrogen replacement on IGF system components in synovial fluid, of which at least some are distinct from any systemic changes observed. The results indicate a potential stimulatory effect of estrogen on joint tissues in vivo.

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