Patients with the nephrotic syndrome and normal renal function have low levels of 25(OH)D in serum presumably due to the loss of this metabolite in the urine. Osteomalacia and hyperparathyroidism have been recently reported to occur as a consequence of those low levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25OHD). We studied six patients (aged 26-52 yr) with the nephrotic syndrome (mean duration, 6.7 yr; range, 2-12 yr) and normal renal function, and evaluated their calcium, phosphorus, PTH, and vitamin D metabolite levels. Bone biopsies were obtained in all patients. The creatinine clearance ranged from 83-134 ml/min . 1.73 m2 of body surface, serum albumin was 2.65 +/- 0.42 (+/- SD) g/100 ml, and proteinuria ranged from 3.5-13.2 g/24 h. All patients had normal serum magnesium, phosphorus, ionized calcium, and alkaline phosphatase (total and bone fraction), and normal roentgenographic metabolic bone survey. Serum PTH, measured by the carboxy-terminal RIA, was 5.1 +/- 2.3 mu leq/ml (normal, 2-10), serum 250HD was 8.8 +/- 4.0 ng/ml (normal, 15-30), and 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 was 38 +/- 25 pg/ml (normal, 17-58). Serum vitamin D-binding protein was 420 +/- 42 micrograms/ml (normal, 400-800). The histological appearance of bone biopsies obtained in these patients was not different from that in a group of sex- and age-matched controls. Specifically, there was no increase in the volume of osteoid (unmineralized bone), the percentage of trabecular surface covered by osteoid, or the number of osteoclasts. The cellular rate of mineralization was normal in all six patients. Thus, these data indicate that low serum levels of 250HD in patients with the nephrotic syndrome and normal renal function do not necessarily result in the development of osteomalacia and/or hyperparathyroidism.