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Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2008 Dec;295(6):R1999-2014. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.90648.2008. Epub 2008 Oct 8.

Mammalian hibernation as a model of disuse osteoporosis: the effects of physical inactivity on bone metabolism, structure, and strength.

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  • 1Department of Biomedical Engineering, Michigan Technological University, 309 Minerals & Materials Engineering Bldg., 1400 Townsend Dr., Houghton, MI 49931, USA.


Reduced skeletal loading typically leads to bone loss because bone formation and bone resorption become unbalanced. Hibernation is a natural model of musculoskeletal disuse because hibernating animals greatly reduce weight-bearing activity, and therefore, they would be expected to lose bone. Some evidence suggests that small mammals like ground squirrels, bats, and hamsters do lose bone during hibernation, but the mechanism of bone loss is unclear. In contrast, hibernating bears maintain balanced bone remodeling and preserve bone structure and strength. Differences in the skeletal responses of bears and smaller mammals to hibernation may be due to differences in their hibernation patterns; smaller mammals may excrete calcium liberated from bone during periodic arousals throughout hibernation, leading to progressive bone loss over time, whereas bears may have evolved more sophisticated physiological processes to recycle calcium, prevent hypercalcemia, and maintain bone integrity. Investigating the roles of neural and hormonal control of bear bone metabolism could give valuable insight into translating the mechanisms that prevent disuse-induced bone loss in bears into novel therapies for treating osteoporosis.

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