Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

The discovery and development of the bisphosphonates (BPs) as a major class of drugs for the treatment of bone diseases has been a fascinating journey that is still not over. In clinical medicine, several BPs are established as the treatments of choice for various diseases of excessive bone resorption, including Paget's disease of bone, myeloma and bone metastases, and osteoporosis. Bisphosphonates are chemically stable analogues of inorganic pyrophosphate, and are resistant to breakdown by enzymatic hydrolysis. Bisphosphonates inhibit bone resorption by being selectively taken up and adsorbed to mineral surfaces in bone, where they interfere with the action of the bone-resorbing osteoclasts. Bisphosphonates are internalized by osteoclasts and interfere with specific biochemical processes. Bisphosphonates can be classified into at least two groups with different molecular modes of action. The simpler non-nitrogen-containing bisphosphonates (such as clodronate and etidronate) can be metabolically incorporated into nonhydrolyzable analogues of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) that may inhibit ATP-dependent intracellular enzymes. The more potent, nitrogen-containing bisphosphonates (such as pamidronate, alendronate, risedronate, ibandronate, and zoledronate) are not metabolized in this way but can inhibit enzymes of the mevalonate pathway, thereby preventing the biosynthesis of isoprenoid compounds that are essential for the posttranslational modification of small GTP-binding proteins (which are also GTPases) such as rab, rho, and rac. The inhibition of protein prenylation and the disruption of the function of these key regulatory proteins explain the loss of osteoclast activity and induction of apoptosis. The key target for bisphosphonates is farnesyl pyrophosphate synthase (FPPS) within osteoclasts, and the recently elucidated crystal structure of this enzyme reveals how BPs bind to and inhibit at the active site via their critical N atoms. In conclusion, bisphosphonates are now established as an important class of drugs for the treatment of many bone diseases, and their mode of action is being unraveled. As a result their full therapeutic potential is gradually being realized.

Original publication




Journal article


Ann n y acad sci

Publication Date





367 - 401


Bone Density Conservation Agents, Humans, Mevalonic Acid, Organophosphonates, Osteitis Deformans, Osteoporosis