The cellular basis of trabecular bone loss in rheumatoid arthritis was investigated in 45 non-steroid treated patients. Mean wall thickness, an indicator of the amount of bone formed per remodelling unit, mean interstitial bone thickness, which is related to resorption depth, and the extent of trabecular surface covered by osteoid, which reflects the number of remodelling units, were assessed in iliac crest biopsy specimens. The mean wall thickness was significantly reduced in the patient group when compared with controls matched for age and sex (mean (SD) 39.8 (5.4) v 51.6 (9.7) microns). There was no significant difference between patients and controls in the mean interstitial bone thickness (51.0 (26.4) v 61.4 (31.9) microns) or osteoid surface (16.7 (11.4) v 21.0 (10.5)%). These results show that reduced bone formation at the remodelling unit level is the predominant mechanism of bone loss in rheumatoid arthritis.
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