Peter R Cavanagh, Angelo A Licata, Andrea J Rice


Bone loss in the lower extremities and lumbar spine is an established consequence of long-duration human space flight. Astronauts typically lose as much bone mass in the proximal femur in 1 month as postmenopausal women on Earth lose in 1 year. Pharmacological interventions have not been routinely used in space, and countermeasure programs have depended solely upon exercise. However, it is clear that the osteogenic stimulus from exercise has been inadequate to maintain bone mass, due to insufficient load or duration. Attention has therefore been focused on several pharmacological interventions that have been successful in preventing or attenuating osteoporosis on Earth. Anti-resorptives are the class of drugs most commonly used to treat osteoporosis in postmenopausal women, notably alendronate sodium, risedronate sodium, zoledronic acid, and selective estrogen receptor modulators, such as raloxifene. There has also been considerable recent interest in anabolic agents such as parathyroid hormone (PTH) and teriparatide (rhPTH [1-34]). Vitamin D and calcium supplementation have also been used. Recent studies of kindreds with abnormally high bone mineral density have provided insight into the genetic regulation of bone mass. This has led to potential therapeutic interventions based on the LRP5, Wnt and BMP2 pathways. Another target is the RANKL/ osteoprotegerin signaling pathway, which influences bone turnover by regulating osteoclast formation and maturation. Trials using such therapies in space are being planned. Among the factors to be considered are dose-response relationships, bone quality, post-use recovery, and combination therapies—all of which may have unique characteristics when the drugs are used in space.

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