The adult skeleton regenerates by temporary cellular structures that comprise teams of juxtaposed osteoclasts and osteoblasts and replace periodically old bone with new. A considerable body of evidence accumulated during the last decade has shown that the rate of genesis of these two highly specialized cell types, as well as the prevalence of their apoptosis, is essential for the maintenance of bone homeostasis; and that common metabolic bone disorders such as osteoporosis result largely from a derangement in the birth or death of these cells. The purpose of this article is 3-fold: 1) to review the role and the molecular mechanism of action of regulatory molecules, such as cytokines and hormones, in osteoclast and osteoblast birth and apoptosis; 2) to review the evidence for the contribution of changes in bone cell birth or death to the pathogenesis of the most common forms of osteoporosis; and 3) to highlight the implications of bone cell birth and death for a better understanding of the mechanism of action and efficacy of present and future pharmacotherapeutic agents for osteoporosis.
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