The mean degree of mineralization of bone (MDMB) was measured by quantitative microradiography on transiliac bone biopsies taken from 53 postmenopausal osteoporotic women who had been treated with alendronate (ALN; 10 mg/day) during 2 (9 patients) or 3 years (16 patients) or with placebo (PLA; 15 and 13 patients, respectively). In the same patients, bone mineral density (BMD) values were obtained by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry of the lumbar spine and femoral neck at the beginning and end of treatment. Histomorphometric parameters and activation frequency of new remodeling units were also measured on the iliac biopsies. After 2 years of ALN, MDMB in compact bone was 9.3% (p = 0.0035) and in cancellous bone was 7.3% (p = 0.0009) higher, respectively, than PLA. After 3 years of ALN, MDMB in compact bone was 11.6% (p = 0.0002) and in cancellous bone was 11.4% (p = 0.0001) higher, respectively, than PLA. After 2 and 3 years of ALN, and compared with the corresponding PLA, the distribution of the degree of mineralization in compact and cancellous bone showed a clear shift toward the highest mineralization values and a decrease in the number of bone structure units having low values of mineralization. The between-group differences in MDMB were similar to those of BMD at the lumbar spine BMD (+8.7% after 2 years and +9.6% after 3 years, respectively), suggesting that MDMB augmentation probably accounted for the majority of the increase in BMD seen with ALN. The data support the hypothesis that the reduction in activation frequency caused by the antiresorptive effect of ALN is followed by a prolonged secondary mineralization that increases the percentage of bone structure units having reached a maximum degree of secondary mineralization and, through this mechanism, MDMB. That these effects contribute to improved bone strength is demonstrated by the reduction in fracture incidence previously demonstrated in these patients.
Keywords: Bone density; Bone remodeling; Degree of mineralization; Quantitative microradiography; Bisphosphonates; Alendronate