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Endocrinology. 1989 Sep;125(3):1290-5.

Glucocorticoids impair bone resorptive activity and viability of osteoclasts disaggregated from neonatal rat long bones.

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Department of Histopathology, St George's Hospital Medical School, London, United Kingdom.


It is generally believed that glucocorticoids cause osteoporosis through a combination of decreased bone formation and increased bone resorption. However, the direct effect of glucocorticoids on osteoclasts has not been determined. We therefore tested the effects of hydrocortisone and dexamethasone on bone resorption by osteoclasts disaggregated from neonatal rat long bones. Hydrocortisone and dexamethasone caused a dose-dependent inhibition of osteoclastic bone resorption in the range 10(-7) to 10(-5) M, and 10(-9) to 10(-6) M, respectively, at concentrations likely to occur during therapy and disease. Inhibition of bone resorption was found to be associated with impaired osteoclast survival: osteoclast numbers were reduced to approximately 25% of control values by 10(-6) M hydrocortisone and 10(-7) M dexamethasone. Osteoclast cytotoxicity by glucocorticoids was completely antagonized by progesterone, which itself had no effect on osteoclast survival. Analysis of the time course of these inhibitory effects showed a nonsignificant reduction in survival by 6 h and marked inhibition of survival by 12 h. We could detect no specific changes in osteoclast morphology in association with this impaired viability. The relative potencies of the glucocorticoids for impairment of osteoclast viability was similar to their relative affinities for binding the glucocorticoid receptor, and this, together with inhibition by progesterone, suggests a receptor-mediated mechanism. Such a receptor-mediated cytotoxic action of glucocorticoids has only previously been reported with lymphoid cells. The sensitivity of osteoclasts to the lethal effects of glucocorticoids suggests that glucocorticoids may have a role in physiology as inhibitors of osteoclastic bone resorption.

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