Aromatization of androgens into estrogens may be important for maintenance of the male skeleton. To address this hypothesis, we evaluated the skeletal effects of selective estrogen deficiency as induced by the aromatase inhibitor vorozole (Vor), with or without 17beta-estradiol (E(2)) administration (1.35 microg/day), in aged (12-month-old) male rats. A baseline group was killed at the start of the experiment (Base). The control group (Control), the group treated with vorozole alone (Vor), the group treated with E(2) alone (E(2)), or the group with a combination of both (Vor + E(2)) were killed 15 weeks later. Vorozole significantly increased serum testosterone (T) and reduced serum E(2) compared with Control. Body weight gain and serum insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) were also lower in Vor, whereas significant weight loss and decrease of serum IGF-I occurred as a result of E(2) administration. Bone formation as assessed by serum osteocalcin was unaffected but osteoid surface in the proximal metaphysis of the tibia was increased in Vor-treated rats. Bone resorption as evaluated by urinary deoxypyridinoline excretion was increased in Vor. Biochemical parameters of bone turnover were reduced significantly in all E(2) treated rats. Premature closure of the growth plates and decreased osteoid and mineralizing surfaces were also observed in E(2) and Vor + E(2). Apparent bone density of lumbar vertebrae and femur, as measured by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA), was significantly reduced in Vor. Vorozole decreased femoral bone density mainly in the distal femur (trabecular and cortical region). This decrease of bone density was not present in E(2) and Vor + E(2). Similar findings were observed when bone density was assessed by peripheral quantitative computed tomography (pQCT); that is, trabecular density of the distal femur, the proximal tibia, and the distal lumbar vertebra were all lower in Vor. This decrease in density was not observed in all E(2)-treated animals. In conclusion, administration of the aromatase inhibitor, vorozole, to aged male rats induces net trabecular bone loss in both the appendicular and axial skeleton, despite a concomitant increase in serum testosterone. E(2) administration is able to prevent this trabecular bone loss in vorozole-treated animals.