Connective tissue, mechanical, and morphometric changes in the lungs of weanling rats fed a low protein diet

Pediatr Pulmonol. 1989;7(3):159-66. doi: 10.1002/ppul.1950070308.


We studied the effect of low-protein diet (8% casein) on lung growth in rats from 3 to 7 weeks of age. Their diet was isocaloric with that of control animals fed a diet of 20% casein. The calorie intake of experimental animals was increased during the first 3 weeks of the experiment, but they increased less (about 10%) in body weight, had less protein and less water when the whole body was examined, and had lower serum proteins and decreased urinary hydroxyproline. The experimental animals remained in positive nitrogen balance by maintaining low urinary nitrogen excretion. The lungs of the experimental animals were abnormal, with decreased absolute amounts of hydroxyproline and desmosine and of these relative to unit lung weight. The lungs contained more air per gram of lung tissue, and the volume of air in the lung was increased at all transpulmonary pressures above zero. When corrected for increased total lung capacity, there was a loss of recoil at mid-lung volumes. Saline-filled volume-pressure curves, corrected for lung volume, showed similar loss of recoil. Alveolar multiplication was quantitatively normal, but the experimental animals had larger alveoli. We conclude that the protein deprivation in isocalorically fed animals has a specific effect on lung scleroprotein content, which may be due to diminished synthesis, and this results in both structural and functional abnormalities in the lung. Our results indicate the importance of dietary protein in lung development and possibly as one of the causes of emphysema. Further studies are needed to know whether this would be a problem in infants of Kwashiokor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Connective Tissue / analysis
  • Connective Tissue / pathology
  • Dietary Proteins / administration & dosage*
  • Energy Intake
  • Lung / analysis
  • Lung / pathology*
  • Lung / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Nutrition Assessment
  • Organ Size
  • Protein Deficiency / pathology*
  • Protein Deficiency / physiopathology
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / pathology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Total Lung Capacity


  • Dietary Proteins