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Explants of ulnae from 5-week-old male and female rats were cleaned of marrow and soft tissue and, in the presence and absence of 10−8 M 17β-estradiol (E2) or 5α-dihydrotestosterone (DHT), mechanically loaded or treated with exogenous prostanoids previously shown to be produced during loading. Over an 18-h period, mechanical loading (peak strain 1300 με, 1 Hz, 8 minutes, maximum strain rate 25,000 με/s), prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) and prostacyclin (PGI2) (10−6 M), each separately produced quantitatively similar increases in cell proliferation and matrix production in bones from males and females, as indicated by incorporation of [3H]thymidine into DNA and [3H]proline into collagen. E2 and DHT both increased [3H]thymidine and [3H]proline incorporations, E2 producing greater increases in females than in males. Indomethacin abrogated the effects of loading, but had no effects on those of sex hormones. Loading, or prostanoids, together with sex hormones, produced responses generally equal to or greater than the addition of the individual influences acting independently. In females there was a synergistic response in [3H]thymidine incorporation between loading and E2, which was quantitatively similar to the interaction between E2 and PGE2 or PGI2. The interaction between loading and E2 for [3H]proline incorporation was not mimicked by these prostanoids. In males the synergism in [3H]proline incorporation seen between loading and DHT was mimicked by that between PGI2 and DHT. We conclude that loading stimulates increased bone cell proliferation and matrix production in situ through a prostanoid-dependent mechanism. This response is equal in size in males and females. Estrogen and testosterone increase proliferation and matrix production through a mechanism independent of prostanoid production. The interactions between loading and hormones are reproduced in some but not all cases by E2 and prostaglandins. E2 with loading and prostaglandins has greater effects in female bones, while DHT with loading and prostaglandins has greater effects in males.