Food and Behaviour Research

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Transient prenatal Vitamin D deficiency is associated with hyperlocomotion in adult rats.

Burne TH, Becker A, Brown J, Eyles DW, Mackay-Sim A, McGrath JJ. (2004) Behav Brain Res. 154(2) 549-55. 

Web URL: View this and related abstracts via PubMed here.


Rat experiments have shown that prenatal Vitamin D deficiency leads to altered neonatal brain morphology, cell density and neurotrophin expression.

In the current study we examined the hypothesis that Vitamin D deficiency during early development alters adult behaviour even when there is an intervening period in which the animal receives normal Vitamin D in later development.

Rats were conceived and born to Vitamin D deficient dams (Birth); conceived, born and weaned from Vitamin D deficient dams (Weaning); or deficient in Vitamin D from conception to 10 weeks of age (Life). Litters were standardized to three males and three females per litter. All rat offspring were rendered normocalcaemic with calcium supplemented water (2 mM) after weaning. Control animals were born to mothers fed a normal diet but subject to similar litter size and calcium supplementation.

At 10 weeks all animals were tested on the holeboard test, elevated plus maze test, social interaction observation, acoustic startle response test, prepulse inhibition of the acoustic startle response and a forced swim test.

Early Vitamin D deficiency (Birth group) enhanced locomotion in the holeboard test and increased activity in the elevated plus maze. Thus, transient prenatal Vitamin D deficiency induces hyperlocomotion in adulthood, without severe motor abnormalities.


Findings from animal studies do not necessarily translate to humans - although they are usually the only way to investigate potential influences of prenatal nutrient deficiencies on health and development in a systematic manner, and so to demonstrate causality.  

Despite this obvious caveat, these findings - showing that maternal Vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy leads to abnormally hyperactive behaviours in the offspring - have obvious potential relevance to ADHD and related neurodevelopmental disorders such as dyspraxia (DCD) and schizophrenia, and deserve further investigation.

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