To examine PG production in estrogen deficiency, we studied effects on cultured neonatal mouse calvariae of bone marrow supernatants (MSup) from sham-operated (SHAM), ovariectomized (OVX), or 17 beta-estradiol (OVX+E)-treated mice. MSups were obtained 3 wk after OVX when bone density had decreased significantly. 10-60% MSup increased medium PGE2 and levels of mRNA for inducible and constitutive prostaglandin G/H synthase (PGHS-2 and PGHS-1) and cytosolic phospholipase A2 in calvarial cultures. OVX MSups had twofold greater effects on PGHS-2 and medium PGE2 than other MSups. IL-1 receptor antagonist and anti-IL-1 alpha neutralizing antibody decreased MSup-stimulated PGHS-2 mRNA and PGE2 levels and diminished differences among OVX, sham-operated, and OVX+E groups. In contrast, antibodies to IL-1 beta, IL-6, IL-11, and TNF alpha had little effect. There were no significant differences in IL-1 alpha concentrations or IL-1 alpha mRNA levels in MSups or marrow cells. PGHS-2 mRNA in freshly isolated tibiae from OVX mice was slightly greater than from sham-operated. We conclude that bone marrow factors can increase PG production through stimulation of PGHS-2; that OVX increases and estrogen decreases activity of these factors; and that IL-1 alpha activity, together with additional unknown factors, mediates the differential MSup effects.