The ability of bones to withstand functional loading without damage depends upon their cell populations establishing and subsequently maintaining a mass and architecture that are appropriately robust for the purpose. In women, the rapid loss of bone associated with the menopause represents a steplike decline in the effectiveness of this process with consequent increase in bone fragility. In men, loss of bone tissue and reduction in bone strength are more gradual and the increased incidence of fragility fractures occurs later. In both sexes, bone mass is associated with levels of bioavailable estrogen. This poses the major question as to how the presence or concentration of the reproductive hormone estrogen influences the relationship between bone mass and bone loading. In this paper, we briefly review evidence of the mechanism(s) by which the mechanical strains engendered by loading influence bone cells to establish and maintain structurally competent bone architecture. We highlight the finding that at least one strain-related cascade responsible for adaptive control of bone architecture is mediated through estrogen receptor (ER) alpha, the number and activity of which are regulated by estrogen. We hypothesize that a major contributor to the rapid loss of bone mass that occurs in females, and the slower age-related fall in males and females, is reduced effectiveness of ER-mediated processing of strain-related information by resident bone cells.
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