Magnesium is known to have an essential role in determining the properties of bone, but the way in which Mg exerts its actions remains unclear. Although long-term Mg deficiency is known to produce osteopenia, the effects of short-term Mg deficiency have not been established. To test the hypothesis that Mg deficiency results in an altered pattern of initial mineralization and concomitant altered bone properties, the radiographic, histologic, chemical, and mechanical properties of the bones of rats given a Mg-deficient diet were compared to those of rats pair-fed the same diet supplemented with Mg. Short-term Mg-deficiency in the diet of growing rats produced a significant decrease in both the trabecular bone volume and the mineral content of the newly formed metaphysis, a significant increase in the Ca:P ratio, and a slight, but significant increase in hydroxyapatite crystallite size and/or perfection in the metaphysis. Comparable, but not significant, trends were found in the diaphyses. Metaphyseal bone osteocalcin levels were reduced in the Mg-deficient rats and lipid was more easily extracted from their bones. No detectable alterations in radiographic microstructure were noted. Mechanically, a significant decrease in the maximum three-point bend strength of the femurs of Mg-deficient rats was observed. These data support the hypothesis that short-term Mg deficiency affects the pattern of bone mineral formation.