The cause of bone loss in postmenopausal osteoporosis--decreased bone formation or increased bone resorption--is controversial. Synthesis of bone--Gla protein (BGP), a specific osteoblast product, is stimulated by 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 [1,25(OH)2D] in vitro. Thus, increases in serum BGP levels during 1,25(OH)2D administration might provide a useful dynamic index of osteoblast function. We compared 14 postmenopausal osteoporotic women with 12 age-matched postmenopausal normal women before and during 6 d of 1,25(OH)2D administration (2.0 micrograms/d). Serum BGP levels were similar at baseline and increased during treatment in both groups (P less than 0.001). However, trend analysis showed a greater (P less than 0.01) increase in the osteoporotic women. These data do not support the hypothesis that defective osteoblast function is the major cause of bone loss in postmenopausal osteoporosis.