The effects of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) given in controlled-release pellets or by daily sc injection for 21 days on mineral homeostasis and bone histomorphometry were compared in 7-week-old female rats. Sham operation and ovariectomy were performed at the beginning of the studies. In experiment 1, 7.5 mg PGE2 or drug-free, controlled-release pellets were implanted sc at the back of the neck on day 7. In experiment 2, 3 mg/kg body weight of PGE2 or vehicle was injected sc daily beginning on day 7. The animals were sacrificed on day 28 of the two experiments, and the tibiae were removed for histomorphometric analysis of the diaphysis and metaphysis. When administered by pellets in experiment 1, PGE2 lowered serum 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D and did not influence weight gain, serum calcium, phosphorus, or magnesium, cross-sectional or medullary areas, periosteal bone formation and apposition rates, endosteal bone formation and apposition rates, or endosteal tetracycline-labeled perimeter. PGE2 lowered cancellous bone area and cancellous bone perimeter in both the sham-operated and ovariectomized rats. In contrast, when administered by sc injection in experiment 2, PGE2 reduced weight gain, increased serum magnesium, increased cortical area, and reduced medullary area without changing cross-sectional area, increased periosteal bone formation and apposition rates and endosteal bone and apposition rates, did not alter endosteal tetracycline-labeled perimeter, and increased cancellous bone area and cancellous bone perimeter in both sham-operated and ovariectomized animals. PGE2 produced local inflammation when given by pellets, and the serum concentration of 13,14-dihydro-15-ketoprostaglandin E2, the major metabolite of PGE2, increased when PGE2 was given by sc injection but not when administered by pellets. Thus, PGE2 given sc by controlled-release pellets (1) produces local inflammation and systemic bone loss without increasing PGE2 systemically and (2) provides a model for inflammation-induced loss of cancellous bone. The results also indicate that the pellet is not a valid means for the delivery of PGE2 to the general circulation.