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Bone Miner. 1987 Aug;2(5):383-94.

Effects of a 120 day period of bed-rest on bone mass and bone cell activities in man: attempts at countermeasure.

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Laboratoire de Biologie du Tissu Oseux, GIP 'Exercie', Groupe de'Etudes en Médecine et Physiologie Spatiale, Faculté de Médecine, Saint Etienne, France.


The effects of immobilization on bone mass and bone remodeling in patients with spinal cord injuries are known to simulate weightlessness-induced bone changes in astronauts. Nevertheless, immobilization has never been investigated using histomorphometric studies in healthy volunteers. Twenty healthy male volunteers participated in a '120 day bed-rest' experiment in the USSR. Bone biopsy cores of iliac crest were taken before and at the end of the period of bed-rest. The subjects were divided into five groups. Five subjects underwent a normal ambulatory life (control subjects); three subjects were placed on continuous bed-rest for 120 days (complete immobilization); four subjects were immobilized and underwent a controlled training program; four subjects were immobilized and received treatment with potassium diphosphonate (ethane-1,hydroxy-1,diphosphonate 900 mg/day, per os); and four subjects were immobilized and received diphosphonate plus physical exercise. Parameters of bone mass and bone cellular activities (osteoblastic formation and osteoclastic resorption) were measured using automatic and semi-automatic image analysis systems. Bone mass remained constant in each group. Cellular activity measurements showed that in completely immobilized men, the mineralization rate was lower than in controls without change in osteoid parameters; in contrast, osteoclastic parameters were increased. In immobilized men given the training program, bone formation was normal and bone resorption was increased. In immobilized men treated with diphosphonate, osteoid parameters and resorption activity were decreased. In immobilized men with diphosphonate plus training, the osteoid parameters and the resorption activity were reduced but to a lesser degree than in immobilized men with diphosphonate alone. Failure of bone loss in normal immobilized subjects differed from results found in paraplegic patients. However, a decrease in mineralization rate and an increase in bone resorption activity were found in both studies. Exercise stimulated bone resorption and diphosphonate inhibited the osteoclastic activity. These data emphasize the difficulties in finding good models to stimulate spaceflight conditions on earth. Comparative studies must be done using bone biopsies to determine more precisely the effects of weightlessness on the human skeleton.

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