Nocturnal oxytocin secretion is lower in amenorrheic athletes than nonathletes and associated with bone microarchitecture and finite element analysis parameters

Elizabeth A Lawson, Kathryn E Ackerman, Nara Mendes Estella, Gabriela Guereca, Lisa Pierce, Patrick M Sluss, Mary L Bouxsein, Anne Klibanski, Madhusmita Misra
European Journal of Endocrinology 2013, 168 (3): 457-64

OBJECTIVE: Preclinical data indicate that oxytocin, a hormone produced in the hypothalamus and secreted into the peripheral circulation, is anabolic to bone. Oxytocin knockout mice have severe osteoporosis, and administration of oxytocin improves bone microarchitecture in these mice. Data suggest that exercise may modify oxytocin secretion, but this has not been studied in athletes in relation to bone. We therefore investigated oxytocin secretion and its association with bone microarchitecture and strength in young female athletes.

DESIGN: Cross-sectional study of 45 females, 14-21 years (15 amenorrheic athletes (AA), 15 eumenorrheic athletes (EA), and 15 nonathletes (NA)), of comparable bone age and BMI.

METHODS: We used high-resolution peripheral quantitative CT to assess bone microarchitecture and finite element analysis to estimate bone strength at the weight-bearing distal tibia and non-weight-bearing ultradistal radius. Serum samples were obtained every 60  min, 2300-0700  h, and pooled for an integrated measure of nocturnal oxytocin secretion. Midnight and 0700  h samples were used to assess diurnal variation of oxytocin.

RESULTS: Nocturnal oxytocin levels were lower in AA and EA than in NA. After controlling for estradiol, the difference in nocturnal oxytocin between AA and NA remained significant. Midnight and 0700  h oxytocin levels did not differ between groups. At the tibia and radius, AA had impaired microarchitecture compared with NA. In AA, nocturnal oxytocin correlated strongly with trabecular and cortical microarchitecture, particularly at the non-weight-bearing radius. In regression models that include known predictors of microarchitecture in AA, oxytocin accounted for a substantial portion of the variability in microarchitectural and strength parameters.

CONCLUSIONS: Nocturnal oxytocin secretion is low in AA compared with NA and associated with site-dependent microarchitectural parameters. Oxytocin may contribute to hypoestrogenemic bone loss in AA.

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