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The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery British Volume
Vol. 44-B, Issue 3 | Pages 453 - 463
1 Aug 1962
Casuccio C

Relating the results of our investigations to the knowledge hitherto acquired about the etiology of osteoporosis (which I have already referred to), I am inclined to interpret the pathogenesis of osteoporosis in the following way: 1) Primary osteoblastic deficiency: congenital (Lobstein); involutive (senile osteoporosis?); 2) Reduced osteoblastic activity from absence of trophic stimuli: (inactivity, ovarian agenesia, eunuchoidism, menopause); 3) Reduced osteoblastic activity from inhibitory stimuli: (cortisone, adrenocorticotrophic hormone (A.C.T.H.), stress, Cushing's disease, thyrotoxicosis); 4) Normal osteoblastic activity but insufficiency of constructive material: (malnutrition, disturbances of the digestive system, insufficiency of vitamin C, diabetes, thyrotoxicosis, cortisone, A.C.T.H., stress, Cushing's disease).

Osteoporosis may therefore be the consequence either of a congenital osteoblastic deficiency, such as that found in cases of osteogenesis imperfecta, or of reduced osteoblastic activity due to absence of trophic stimuli such as mechanical stress and the sex hormones, or of reduced activity of the bone cells due to anti-anabolic substances which inhibit them, such as cortisone and its derivatives and the thyroid hormone in strong doses, or lastly of reduced availability of construction material due to its introduction in reduced quantities (starvation, dysfunction of the digestive system) or due to hindering of synthesis (deficiency of vitamin C, diabetes, cortisone and its derivatives) or due to an excessive degree of destruction (thyrotoxicosis). In the case of anti-anabolic hormones from the adrenal cortex, the mechanism may thus be twofold: inhibition of the osteoblasts and deprivation of the osteoblasts of glucoprotein material due to a general anomaly of metabolism. This may perhaps explain the most serious forms of bone atrophy which are usually observable in cases of hyperfunction of the adrenal cortex.

Senile osteoporosis should, in my opinion, be included in the first of our groups because it cannot be said to be brought about by any of the causes usually cited for osteoporosis– such as deficiency of sex hormones, excess of hormones from the adrenal cortex, deficiency of calcium, etc.–and in all probability it will depend on a progressive involution of the osteoblasts brought about by old age.

Senile involution is an expression of the descending phase of life's parabola and it involves all the organs and all the parenchymatous tissues in the human body, but it does not cause a parallel reduction of functions and activities on all of them equally. The skeletal system is one of the first to feel these reductions, because in old age life necessarily becomes less intense. Consequently in the economy of the ageing subject the generally reduced level of metabolism brings about a sort of selection in the nourishment of the different organs and systems, and sometimes almost a dismantling of some of these in an attempt to fall in with the new and reduced level of activities of some of the parenchymatous tissues, activities which may be incomplete or even transferred elsewhere. We believe that the moment which originally determines the beginning of senile osteoporosis coincides with the involutional process of cellular metabolism that strikes at all parenchymatous tissue during old age–striking, in the case of osteoporosis, hardest of all at the bony tissues.

There is, indeed, no doubt that certain essential processes of cellular metabolism do alter with age, and that the reduction in the activity of the gonads does have considerable importance. In any case, just as adolescence and old age cannot be explained only in terms of gonadal activity, so the involution of the skeleton cannot be due merely to the involution of the gonads. How should one then interpret the well known benefit afforded by administration of sex hormones in cases of osteoporosis? Probably the action of oestrogens and androgens is, in this case, of a pharmacological nature, and comparable, for instance, to the action of digitalis on the cardiac muscle. It will be remembered how digitalis acts almost exclusively on myofibrils which have become inadequate, and has little or no effect on a normal myocardium. Similarly, the sex hormones would seem to exert a stimulating action on osteoblasts that are on the way to involution, while they exert little or no action on normal osteoblasts. In support of this we have the findings of Urist and other workers, who demonstrated that the administration of sex hormones produces calcium and nitrogen retention only in osteoporotics, while in non-osteoporotic subjects of the same age it produces no effect. On the other hand, the action of the sex hormones might act in cases of senile osteoporosis by returning the changed level of protein metabolism to normal.

From the data in the literature and from the results of our own investigations, I conclude that osteoporosis in general, and senile osteoporosis in particular, are first and foremost the result of a disturbance in the metabolism of bone, and that the metabolic disturbance is closely and exclusively related to the degree of activity and the state of activity of the cells in the bone. Lastly, I believe that senile osteoporosis should not be considered an actual disease but rather as one limited aspect of the normal descending parabola which affects to a greater or less degree all the tissues of the body.