The impact of microgravity on bone metabolism in vitro and in vivo

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Exposure to microgravity has been associated with several physiological changes in astronauts and cosmonauts, including an osteoporosis-like loss of bone mass. In-flight measures used to counteract this, including intensive daily exercise regimens, have been only partially successful in reducing the bone loss and in the process have consumed valuable work time. If this bone loss is to be minimized or, preferably, prevented, more effective treatment strategies are required. This, however, requires a greater understanding of the mechanisms through which bone metabolism is affected by microgravity. Various research strategies have been used to examine this problem, including in vitro studies using bone cells and in vivo studies on humans and rats. These have been conducted both in flight and on the ground, by strategies that produce weightlessness to mimic the effects of microgravity. Overall, the majority of the studies have found that marked decreases in gravitation loading result in the loss of bone mass. The processes of bone formation and bone resorption become uncoupled, with an initial transitory increase in resorption accompanied by a prolonged decrease in formation. Loss of bone mass is not uniform throughout the skeleton, but varies at different sites depending on the type of bone and on the mechanical load received. It appears that the skeletal response is a physiologic adaptation to the space environment which, after long space flights or repeated shorter ones, could eventually lead to significant reductions in the ability of the skeletal tissues to withstand the forces of gravity and increased susceptibility to fracture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)252-261
Number of pages10
JournalCritical Reviews in Oral Biology and Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Animal
  • Bone resorption
  • Calcium metabolism
  • Exercise
  • Human
  • Osteogenesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Dentistry
  • Otorhinolaryngology


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