Low Levels of Vitamin D have a Deleterious Effect on the Articular Cartilage in a Rat Model

Cecilia Pascual-Garrido, Michael E. Angeline, Richard Ma, Jorge Chahla, Cliff Voigt, Xiang Hua Deng, Joseph Nguyen, Russell F. Warren, Scott A. Rodeo

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14 Scopus citations


Background: Vitamin D appears to play an important role in bone and cartilage metabolism since its receptors are widely found in human articular chondrocytes. Thus, effects of variation of vitamin D may directly impact cartilage and bone biology. Questions/Purposes: The aims of this study are to compare (1) articular cartilage structure and composition and (2) trabecular and cortical bone microstructure in rats with normal versus insufficient vitamin D levels. Methods: Twenty-five mature, male Sprague-Dawley rats were allocated to two groups: (1) control arm (vitamin D replete—12 rats) and (2) an experimental arm (vitamin D deficient—13 rats). Vitamin D deficiency was induced using a vitamin D-deficient diet and UV light restriction. Rats were sacrificed after 4 weeks vitamin D deficiency was confirmed. The right knee was harvested for analysis of both the medial (MFC) and lateral femoral condyles (LFC). A region of interest was established on both condyles to correlate subchondral bone architecture and the overlying cartilage. Histological analysis was performed and graded using the modified Mankin score. Subchondral and cortical bony architecture was evaluated with micro-CT. Results: After 4 weeks, the vitamin D-deficient group had statistically significant changes in cartilage structure in both the MFC and LFC [1.55 ± 0.6 vs. 4.23 ± 4.1 (p = 0.035) and 1.55 ± 0.6 vs. 3.53 ± 2.4 (p = 0.009), respectively]. Micro-CT analysis revealed no correlation between subchondral bone values and the overlying cartilage Mankin score (p = 0.460). No significant difference was evident between the subchondral bone of the control and study group. Conclusions: Low levels of vitamin D have a deleterious effect on the cartilage. Given the high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in the general population, these findings raise important questions about the potential role of vitamin D in articular cartilage health.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)150-157
Number of pages8
JournalHSS Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016


  • cartilage
  • osteoarthritis
  • rat model
  • subchondral bone
  • vitamin D


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