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Semin Oncol. 2001 Apr;28(2 Suppl 6):35-44.

Preclinical studies with zoledronic acid and other bisphosphonates: impact on the bone microenvironment.

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Department of Medicine, Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, TX 78284-7877, USA.


The propensity for breast cancer cells to metastasize to bone and to induce osteolysis has long been recognized. Characteristics of both the tumor cells and the bone microenvironment contribute to this phenomenon. The presence of tumor in bone is associated with activation of osteoclasts, resulting in excessive bone resorption and subsequent osteolysis. Breast cancer cells and other tumor types influence osteoclastic bone resorption by increasing the number of osteoclasts and enhancing their resorptive activity. Parathyroid hormone-related peptide, in addition to its role in humorally mediated hypercalcemia, is secreted by metastatic breast cancer cells in bone in which it acts as a paracrine factor to stimulate osteoclasts. As bone matrix is broken down by activated osteoclasts, a rich supply of mitogenic factors is released, including insulin-like growth factors, bone morphogenetic proteins, and fibroblast growth factors. Transforming growth factor (TGF)-beta, one of the most abundant of the bone-derived factors, promotes increased production of parathyroid hormone-related peptide by tumor cells, establishing a "vicious cycle" leading to progressive tumor growth and bone destruction. Bisphosphonates interrupt this cycle by inhibiting osteoclasts, in part by inducing osteoclast apoptosis. In several animal models of breast cancer metastasis to bone, bisphosphonates decrease the number of new bone metastases and inhibit progression of existing lesions. A single 3 microg intravenous injection of zoledronic acid (Zometa; Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp, East Hanover, NJ), a new highly potent bisphosphonate, prevented destruction of trabecular bone in an orthotopic mouse mammary tumor model. Tumor volume in bone was decreased by zoledronic acid in a dose-dependent manner in the same model, and tumor cell apoptosis was increased by zoledronic acid in bone metastases in the 4T1 murine model of mammary carcinoma metastasis. Zoledronic acid at a dose of 1.0 microg/d for 10 days also reduced bone lesion area in a nude mouse model with existing bone metastases. Although bisphosphonates, including zoledronic acid, are able to induce apoptosis in tumor cells in vitro, studies in animal models to date have generally not shown a reduction in nonosseous tumor. Therefore, bisphosphonate-associated tumor reduction in bone is most likely mediated by osteoclast inhibition or is related to high local concentrations of bisphosphonates in the bone compartment.

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