Seventy-six patients (63 men, 13 women) have been followed up by vertebral bone density (VBD) studies from 3 to 36 months. VBD was measured by single-energy computerized tomographic scan. Before transplantation, VBD was found to be lower than in age-matched controls (less than 40 years of age [group 1], 96% of controls: 40 through 49 years of age [group 2], 77%; 50 to 60 years of age [group 3], 87%; more than 60 years of age [group 4], 76%). After transplantation, despite oral calcium supplements, VBD fell further in all but two patients (97%), which was almost certainly related to maintenance steroid and cyclosporine therapy, and was most marked in the older groups (group 2, 67% compared with age-matched controls at 6 months; group 3, 60%; group 4, 50%). Intensive therapy with c salmon calcitonin (in 29 of 76 patients [38%]), testosterone (in 33 of 63 men [52%]), or estrogen (in 12 of 13 women [92%]) limited, but did not totally prevent, further loss in VBD; in patients who had shown an approximate 45% loss of VBD from pretransplantation levels, further loss was reduced to between 4% and 10%. Five patients increased bone density after calcitonin therapy. Despite significantly reduced VBD in several older patients, minor vertebral bone compression developed in only one patient. We recommend that all patients undergoing heart transplantation, particularly those over the age of 50 years, should be followed by VBD studies, and therapy should be administered to prevent VBD loss.