Evidence supporting a role of glucocorticoids in short-term bone loss in burned children

Gordon L. Klein, Lin Xiang Bi, Donald J. Sherrard, Sian R. Beavan, Deborah Ireland, Juliet E. Compston, W. Geoffrey Williams, David N. Herndon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


Children burned ≥40% total body surface area suffer acute bone loss. The reason(s) for this is uncertain. In order to determine whether high endogenous glucocorticoid production can contribute to the bone loss, we sequentially studied a total of 14 pediatric burn patients for bone histomorphometry; 7 of these patients and 4 controls were studied for characteristics of corticosteroid-induced bone loss, including decreased osteoblasts and down-regulation of the glucocorticoid receptor in bone. We then studied 4 of the burn patients and three controls for a decrease in markers of osteoblast differentiation, another feature of glucocorticoid toxicity. Bone biopsies were taken from each of the 14 burn patients a mean of 3 weeks post-burn. Histomorphometry was performed on one specimen (n = 7) and either glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid receptor, collagen and alkaline phosphatase expression by RT-PCR (n = 7) or marrow stromal cell culture (n = 4) on the other. Patients were permitted a maximum of two biopsies for study. One biopsy was obtained intra-operatively from normal subjects during elective iliac crest alveolar bone grafting and compared with burn specimens for glucocorticoid receptors and marrow stromal cell culture. A 24-h urine specimen was obtained for free cortisol (n = 7). Histomorphometry revealed low osteoblast and osteoid surfaces and few detectable osteoblasts. Resorptive surfaces were also reduced. Glucocorticoid receptor α mRNA (GRα) was not decreased; however, there was a trend toward inverse relationships between urine free cortisol and GRα and type-1 collagen mRNA, r = -0.61 and -0.64, respectively, and a significantly lower mRNA for type-1 collagen in bone in burn vs control patients by the median test, λ2 = 7.6 (p < 0.01). Markers of osteoblast differentiation, core-binding factor (cbf)a1, bone morphogenetic protein (BMP)-2, type-I collagen, and alkaline phosphatase were reduced in burn cell cultures compared with controls (p < 0.05). The eightfold elevation of urinary free cortisol excretion, low osteoblast number, decreased resorptive surface, and reduced markers of osteoblast differentiation are all consistent with an acute glucocorticoid effect on bone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)468-474
Number of pages7
JournalOsteoporosis International
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Bone formation
  • Burn
  • Glucocorticoid receptors
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Osteoblast differentiation
  • Type-I collagen

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism


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