Bisphosphonate effects on bone turnover, microdamage, and mechanical properties: What we think we know and what we know that we don't know

Matthew R. Allen, David B. Burr

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

143 Scopus citations


The bisphosphonates (BPs) have been useful tools in our understanding of the role that bone remodeling plays in skeletal health. The purpose of this paper is to outline what we know, and what is still unknown, about the role that BPs play in modulating bone turnover, how this affects microdamage accumulation, and ultimately what the effects of these changes elicited by BPs are to the structural and the material biomechanical properties of the skeleton. We know that BPs suppress remodeling site-specifically, probably do not have a direct effect on formation, and that the individual BPs vary with respect to speed of onset, duration of effect and magnitude of suppression. However, we do not know if these differences are meaningful in a clinical sense, how much remodeling is sufficient, the optimal duration of treatment, or how long it takes to restore remodeling to pre-treatment levels following withdrawal. We also know that suppression is intimately tied to microdamage accumulation, which is also site-specific, that BPs impair targeted repair of damage, and that they can reduce the energy absorption capacity of bone at the tissue level. However, the BPs are clearly effective at preventing fracture, and generally increase bone mineral density and whole bone strength, so we do not know whether these changes in damage accumulation and repair, or the mechanical effects at the tissue level, are clinically meaningful. The mechanical effects of BPs on the fatigue life of bone, or BP effects on bone subject to an impact, are entirely unknown. This paper reviews the literature on these topics, and identifies gaps in knowledge that can be addressed with further research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)56-65
Number of pages10
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1 2011


  • Anti-resorptives
  • Mechanics
  • Microdamage
  • Remodeling
  • Turnover

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Histology

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