The effect of sex hormones on bone metabolism of the otic capsule – an overview

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Bone resorption, which can occur after the menopause, has long been considered to due to the decrease of estrogen and so estrogen and estrogen/progestin treatment in women has been employed with the aim of slowing down the process. Other important factors have recently been considered, including follicle-stimulating hormone. The hormonal control of bone metabolism has taken on a new dimension since the description, within the last decade, of a major osteoclast inhibiting control system. The receptor activator of nuclear factor-κB (NF-κB) ligand (RANKL) produced by osteoblastic lineage cells, must bind with its receptor RANK, located on osteoclasts, in order to allow the maturation and activation of osteoclasts. The potential continuous bone loss is controlled by the decoy receptor osteoprotegerin (OPG) which competitively binds to RANKL and hence blocks the interaction of RANKL–RANK. Estrogen contributes to bone protection since it decreases the response of osteoclasts to RANKL and induces osteoclast apoptosis. But estrogen, alone and especially in synergy with progesterone, is a potent stimulator of prolactin release. Prolactin affects calcium metabolism and hyperprolactinemia associated with pregnancy, lactation, antipsychotic drug treatment, or aging is reflected in decreased bone mineral density. Long-term estrogen treatment in guinea pig results in hyperprolactinemia and has been shown to lead to hearing loss as well as bone dysmorphology of the otic capsule. Recent data show that prolactin decreases OPG and increases RANKL. OPG has been shown to be expressed at high levels in the cochlea and OPG knock-out mice have indeed abnormal remodeling of the otic capsule and resorption of the auditory ossicles. So estrogen-induced hyperprolactinemia could oppose estrogen protection by the knock-down of the OPG bone protection system. This might explain why oral contraception treatment and hormone replacement therapies, involving estrogen together with progestin, increases the risk of otosclerosis and vestibular disorders. Hyperprolactinemia associated with pregnancy and lactation might also underlie the association of increased risk of otosclerosis with multiple pregnancies.

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