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Anat Rec. 1998 Jun;251(2):265-74.

Comparison of bone loss during normal lactation with estrogen deficiency osteopenia and immobilization osteopenia in the rat.

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Division of Radiobiology, School of Medicine, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112, USA.



Substantial changes in mineral and skeletal metabolism occur during pregnancy and lactation. The purpose of this study was to compare three contrasting osteopenic states in the rat: (1) physiological (lactation), (2) endocrine-deficiency (ovariectomy), and (3) lack of mechanical usage (immobilization).


One group of female rats went through a pregnancy and 21 days of lactation (LAC). Another group was ovariectomized (OVX) for 6 weeks, and another group had one hind limb immobilized (IMM) for 6 weeks. Bone mineral density was determined by photon absorptiometry, and changes in cancellous and cortical bone were determined by backscattered electron imaging (BSE), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), structural morphometry, and fluorochrome-based histomorphometry.


The LAC group gained the most weight but had the least bone mineral density and metaphyseal bone mass. The OVX and IMM groups also had less bone mass than controls (CONT). Changes in cancellous bone structure occurred in all groups, but the IMM group had a more uniform distribution of metaphyseal bone loss. Longitudinal bone growth was greater in the IMM and OVX groups but less in the LAC group. Cancellous bone formation rates were greater in the OVX and LAC group. Cortical bone width was less in the LAC, IMM, and OVX groups. Periosteal bone formation was greater in the OVX group but less in the LAC group.


Considerable osteopenic changes occur in cancellous and cortical bone during the first reproductive cycle in the rat. The osteopenia of lactation is somewhat similar to that observed after ovariectomy, likely because both are hypoestrogenic conditions. Because this bone loss occurs during a normal physiological event, these data suggest that before the first reproductive cycle, the female rat has a skeletal mass in excess of that needed for normal mechanical usage.

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