Share this article on:

Early Animal Models of Rickets and Proof of a Nutritional Deficiency Hypothesis

Chesney, Russell W.

Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition: March 2012 - Volume 54 - Issue 3 - p 322–327
doi: 10.1097/MPG.0b013e318242db3d
Invited Reviews

ABSTRACT In the period between 1880 and 1930, the role of nutrition and nutritional deficiency as a cause of rickets was established based upon the results from 6 animal models of rickets. This greatly prevalent condition (60%–90% in some locales) in children of the industrialized world was an important clinical research topic. What had to be reconciled was that rickets was associated with infections, crowding, and living in northern latitudes, and cod liver oil was observed to prevent or cure the disease. Several brilliant insights opened up a new pathway to discovery using animal models of rickets. Studies in lion cubs, dogs, and rats showed the importance of cod liver oil and an antirachitic substance later termed vitamin D. They showed that fats in the diet were required, that vitamin D had a secosteroid structure and was different from vitamin A, and that ultraviolet irradiation could prevent or cure rickets. Several of these experiments had elements of serendipity in that certain dietary components and the presence or absence of sunshine or ultraviolet irradiation could critically change the course of rickets. Nonetheless, at the end of these studies, a nutritional deficiency of vitamin D resulting from a poor diet or lack of adequate sunshine was firmly established as a cause of rickets.

Department of Pediatrics, The University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Le Bonheur Children's Hospital, Memphis, TN.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Russell W. Chesney, MD, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Le Bonheur Children's Hospital, Children's Foundation Research Center, 50 North Dunlap, Memphis, TN 38103 (e-mail:

Received 5 May, 2011

Accepted 27 July, 2011

The author reports no conflicts of interest.

Copyright 2012 by ESPGHAN and NASPGHAN