The effects of chronic GH and insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) excess on bone metabolism were examined by measuring serum markers of bone formation and urine markers of bone resorption as well as vertebral bone densities in patients with active acromegaly. Fasting serum GH levels were elevated in all 27 patients (31 +/- 11 micrograms/L). Serum calcium levels were within the normal range, except in 3 of 27 (10%) patients with mild hypercalcemia. Urinary calcium excretion, however, was increased in 6 (22%) patients despite mainly normal serum PTH and 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D levels, suggesting a direct renal GH and/or IGF-I-mediated calciuric effect. Urinary hydroxyproline/creatinine excretion was increased in all except 1 patient and correlated with plasma IGF-I levels (r = 0.49; P < 0.02; n = 22). A more specific indicator of bone collagen turnover, urinary type I collagen cross-linked N-telopeptide, was elevated in all except 1 patient and correlated with serum GH (r = 0.47; P < 0.02), IGF-I (r = 0.60; P < 0.005), and urinary hydroxyproline/creatinine excretion (r = 0.62; P < 0.001). Serum bone Gla protein (osteocalcin), a specific marker of osteoblastic activity, was also increased in 50% of the patients and correlated with urinary N-telopeptide (r = 0.47; P < 0.02), but not with serum GH or IGF-I concentrations. Trabecular bone density, as determined by quantitative computerized tomography of the lumbar spine, was increased in only 1 patient; 13 others had subnormal bone density. The results suggest that in long-standing acromegaly, osteoblastic and osteoclastic activities are increased. Vertebral trabecular bone mass is usually reduced. Urinary collagen cross-links may serve as a more specific marker of bone resorption in acromegaly.