Primary hyperparathyroidism (PHPT) is increasing in incidence and detection, primarily because of the aging of our population and the widespread use of automated serum calcium determination. As a result, a substantial number of "early" cases or "biochemical" PHPT are being detected. The indications for parathyroidectomy in such early cases of PHPT are currently under debate, primarily because of economic issues. These factors underscore the importance of research into the basic mechanisms and natural history of PHPT. We investigated an animal model of diet-induced PHPT that retains two crucial aspects of PHPT: elevation of endogenously produced parathyroid hormone (PTH), accompanied by gross and microscopic changes in the native parathyroid glands. Female Long-Evans rats were divided into six groups of 15 each and fed a control diet (Ca/P of 1:2) or a high-phosphate diet (Ca/P of 1:7) for 1-, 2-, or 3-month intervals. Compared with the control animals, serum PTH levels were elevated at all three time intervals in the experimental group, whereas serum calcium levels were decreased at all time intervals. Serum creatine levels were also elevated at all time intervals, whereas serum phosphorus levels did not change. Parathyroid histopathologic studies demonstrated no change at 1 month, whereas nine of 15 experimental animals showed mild hyperplasia at 2 months and 13 of 14 showed mild to moderate hyperplasia with gland enlargement at 3 months compared with control animals. Histopathologic examination of the kidneys showed no change at 1 month but focal parenchymal inflammation with calcium deposition at 2 and 3 months in the experimental groups. In conclusion, the high-phosphate diet successfully induced the earliest changes of PHPT: elevated PTH levels and parathyroid hyperplasia. However, because renal function was mildly compromised early on, some element of early secondary (renal) hyperparathyroidism may have supervened quickly. Because this model is simple, it may be useful to investigate this complex syndrome further, as well as its natural history and the complications it produces in other organs such as the kidneys.