Rapidly assessing changes in bone mineral balance using natural stable calcium isotopes

Jennifer L L Morgan, Joseph L. Skulan, Gwyneth W. Gordon, Stephen J. Romaniello, Scott M. Smith, Ariel D. Anbar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Scopus citations


The ability to rapidly detect changes in bone mineral balance (BMB) would be of great value in the early diagnosis and evaluation of therapies for metabolic bone diseases such as osteoporosis and some cancers. However, measurements of BMB are hampered by difficulties with using biochemical markers to quantify the relative rates of bone resorption and formation and the need to wait months to years for altered BMB to produce changes in bone mineral density large enough to resolve by X-ray densitometry. We show here that, in humans, the natural abundances of Ca isotopes in urine change rapidly in response to changes in BMB. In a bed rest experiment, use of high-precision isotope ratio MS allowed the onset of bone loss to be detected in Ca isotope data after about 1 wk, long before bone mineral density has changed enough to be detectable with densitometry. The physiological basis of the relationship between Ca isotopes and BMB is sufficiently understood to allow quantitative translation of changes in Ca isotope abundances to changes in bone mineral density using a simple model. The rate of change of bone mineral density inferred from Ca isotopes is consistent with the rate observed by densitometry in long-term bed rest studies. Ca isotopic analysis provides a powerful way to monitor bone loss, potentially making it possible to diagnose metabolic bone disease and track the impact of treatments more effectively than is currently possible.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9989-9994
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number25
StatePublished - Jun 19 2012


  • Biomarker
  • Biosignature
  • Medical geology
  • Osteopenia
  • Spaceflight

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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