Sex hormones, their receptors and bone health
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Sex steroids regulate skeletal maturation and preservation in both men and women, as already recognized in the 1940s by Albright and Reifenstein. The impact of gonadal insufficiency on skeletal integrity has been widely recognized in adult men and women ever since. In the context of their skeletal actions, androgens and estrogens are no longer considered as just male and female hormones, respectively. Androgens can be converted into estrogens within the gonads and peripheral tissues and both are present in men and women, albeit in different concentrations. In the late 1980s, sex steroid receptors were discovered in bone cells. However, the understanding of sex steroid receptor activation and translation into biological skeletal actions is still incomplete. Due to the complex metabolism, sex steroids may have not only endocrine but also paracrine and/or autocrine actions. Also, circulating sex steroid concentrations do not necessarily reflect their biological activity due to strong binding to sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). Finally, sex steroid signaling may include genomic and non-genomic effects in bone and non-bone cells. This review will focus on our current understanding of gonadal steroid metabolism, receptor activation, and their most relevant cellular and biological actions on bone.