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Alessandra Bitto, Francesca Polito, Bruce Burnett, Robert Levy, Vincenzo Di Stefano, Mary Ann Armbruster, Herbert Marini, Letteria Minutoli, Domenica Altavilla and Francesco Squadrito

Glucocorticoid (GC)-induced osteoporosis (GIO) is the most important secondary cause of bone loss. Clinical evidence suggests a role for genistein (GEN) aglycone in the prevention of osteoporosis. We investigated whether GEN could prevent GIO as well as the development of osteonecrosis in the femoral head using an experimental rat model. A total of 28 female Sprague–Dawley rats were used in the study. GIO and osteonecrosis were induced by daily s.c. injections of 30 mg/kg of methylprednisolone (MP; n=7). Another group of animals (MP+GEN; n=7) concomitantly received MP (30 mg/kg per s.c.) and GEN aglycone (5 mg/kg per i.p.) for 60 days. Control animals were administered daily with vehicle (VEH) or GEN (5 mg/kg per i.p.) only. At the beginning and end of the treatment, animals were examined for bone mineral density (BMD) and bone mineral content (BMC). After killing, serum was collected to determine bone-alkaline phosphatase (b-ALP), carboxy-terminal collagen crosslink (CTX) and osteoprotegerin (OPG) levels. Femurs were removed and tested for breaking strength and bone histology analyzed for structural quality of the femoral neck. GEN aglycone prevented bone loss as measured by BMD and BMC. Moreover, GEN significantly increased the bone formation markers b-ALP and OPG, reduced the bone resorption marker CTX and statistically maintained comparable strength versus the VEH only group. Finally, histological scoring revealed a protective effect of GEN on bone structure statistically comparable with the VEH control animals. Results suggest that the GEN aglycone might be a preventive treatment for GIO and complications of osteonecrosis with long-term GC treatment.