To evaluate the ability of estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) to prevent changes in trabecular bone volume (BV/TV) and connectivity beginning either at ovariectomy (OVX) or 5-13 days after OVX in adult female rats, the right proximal tibial was examined by three-dimensional X-ray tomographic microscopy (XTM) in vivo. Animals had XTM scans of the right tibia and then were randomized into six groups (n = 9). Groups 2-6 had bilateral (OVX), while group 1 was sham-ovariectomized (OVXd) on day 0. Animals were treated with vehicle (groups I and 2) or 17β-estradiol therapy (ERT) at 10 μg/kg three times per week starting at days 0, 5, 8, and 13 post-OVX (groups 3, 4, 5, and 6), until day 50 when they were rescanned by XTM and sacrificed. Trabecular bone structural variables were calculated from XTM data (BV/TVx and β1/BV/TVx) and standard histomorphometry. Trabecular bone volume (BV/TVx) and the trabecular connections per cubic millimeter of trabecular bone (β1/BV/TVx) were maintained in both sham-OVXd animals and OVX animals given ERT from the time of OVX. However, OVX + vehicle-treated animals lost 54% BV/TVx and 46% β1/BV/TVx (p < 0.01 from day 0). BV/TVx and β1/BV/TVx decreased rapidly post-OVX to -22% and -25% at day 13 (p < 0.01 from day 0). ERT initiated at day 5, 8, and 13 post-OVX restored BV/TVx to baseline values at day 50 by modestly increasing trabecular plate thickness; however, β1/BV/TVx was reduced in all OVX groups when compared with their baseline values. ERT also caused a significant reduction in bone turnover compared with OVX + vehicle; however, resorption was suppressed more than formation. These results demonstrate that ERT can restore the lost trabecular bone, but not trabecular connectivity, that occurs soon after OVX by allowing bone formation to continue in previously activated bone remodeling units while suppressing the production of new remodeling units. This may be the mechanism by which prompt intervention with estrogen and other antiresorptive agents can restore bone mass that has been lost from the increase in remodeling space, and thereby reduce the risk of osteoporotic fractures in postmenopausal women.
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