Catch-up and targeted growth following variable duration protein restriction: Effects on bone and body mass

Donna Carlson Jones, Marica Bernstein, Rebecca Z. German

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Protein malnutrition leads to growth retardation that can be reversed through catch-up growth, once normative nutrition is restored. Because growth is a dynamic process, catch-up capacity is likely influenced by the maturity of the animal and/or the duration of the insult, in addition to the type of insult experienced. We compared length of malnutrition, sexual dimorphism, body mass, and skeletal growth. Eighty Rattus norvegicus were divided into 10 treatment groups (five diets; male and female) and followed for more than 1 year. At weaning, animals were placed on either a control or low-protein isocaloric diet. Three experimental groups were switched to the control diet at 40, 60, or 90 days. Beginning with 21 days of age, animals were weighed daily and radiographed throughout the study. To determine the presence of catch-up growth, growth rates (GRs) were calculated (linear regression) for 20-day time spans before and after diet changes and compared among treatment groups. Targeted growth was measured as final size or as the coefficient of variation with age. These results show that 1) protein-restricted animals experience catch-up growth with dietary rehabilitation; 2) for females, catch-up GRs are proportional to GRs in control animals at the same age as the timing of dietary rehabilitation but not for males; and 3) targeted growth was observed in some, but not all, aspects of anatomy. The length of the tibia and humerus was indistinguishable from controls, regardless of length of malnutrition or gender, whereas the ulna and male body mass exceeded control sizes. Although most measures decreased in variation with ontogeny, the tibia failed to do so. These results support a complex biological regulation of catch-up and targeted growth. The implications for selection are that flexible and responsive developmental trajectories may have an advantage over those programed into a single size.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)485-496
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Morphology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2011


  • Body composition
  • Mammals
  • Nutritional rehabilitation
  • Postnatal growth
  • Protein malnutrition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Developmental Biology


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