Hyperthyroidism is characterized by increased bone turnover and resorptive activity. Similar changes in remodeling are seen in osteoporosis. To study the pathogenetic role of thyroid hormone in osteoporosis, we measured concentrations of free and total thyroid hormones and investigated the sensitivity of the skeleton toward thyroid hormones in 14 osteoporotic, 16 estrogen-treated, and 15 normal postmenopausal women with comparable thyroid status. Triiodothyronine (T3, 60 microg/day for 7 days) was administered to the three groups. The skeletal response was assessed by monitoring bone alkaline phosphatase (BAP), osteocalcin (BGP), and pyridinium cross-linked telopeptide domain of type I collagen (ICTP) in serum and urinary excretion of hydroxyproline (OHP), pyridinoline (PYR), and deoxypyridinoline (DPR) at days 0, 8, 15, and 57. Women on estrogen replacement therapy exhibited lower bone turnover than the normal postmenopausal women. Markers of bone formation were reduced by 19-43% and markers of resorption by 22-48%. The osteoporotic women displayed lower bone mass at the lumbar spine and the distal forearm (p < 0.01-0.001), but the levels of biochemical markers of bone formation and resorption were comparable to values obtained in the normal postmenopausal women. T3 stimulation caused significant increases (p values ranging between 0.05-0.001) in all three groups of the resorptive markers: ICTP (47%, 47%, 45%), OHP (29%, 30%, 33%), PYR (43%, 27%, 51%), and DPR (42%, 24%, 59%). Of the formative markers, only BGP increased significantly (32%, 40%, 47%) (p < 0.001). At day 57, however, all three formative markers increased compared with day 15 (p < 0.05-0.001). No significant differences in bone markers were demonstrated between groups. In the osteoporotic group, as the only group, serum calcium increased (p < 0.05) and serum PTH fell (p < 0.05). In conclusion, osteoporosis and estrogen substitution are not characterized by altered concentrations of thyroid hormones or responsiveness to thyroid hormones at the level of individual bone cells; however, altered responses pertaining to PTH and calcium were detected.