In order to evaluate the effect of dietary phosphorus (P) restriction on the pathogenesis of secondary hyperparathyroidism (2 degrees HPT) in chronic renal failure (CRF), we studied parathyroid function and parathyroid cell proliferation in 5/6 nephrectomized rats (CRF rats) fed with three different dietary P contents (0.6, 0.3 and 0.1%). Four weeks after 5/6 nephrectomy, serum immunoreactive parathyroid hormone (PTH) concentration, PTH mRNA level in parathyroid glands and the size of parathyroid glands were increased in CRF rats compared to those of sham-operated rats when both groups of rats were fed with normal P (0.6%) diet. These changes were not accompanied by any detectable changes of serum concentrations of calcium (Ca), inorganic phosphate (Pi) or calcitriol. In contrast, such evidence of 2 degrees HPT was obliterated in CRF rats fed with 0.3 or 0.1% P diet. In rats fed with 0.3% P diet, serum concentrations of Ca, Pi, and calcitriol were not different from those of sham-operated rats or from CRF rats fed with normal P diet. In contrast, serum Ca and calcitriol concentrations increased and serum Pi decreased in CRF rats fed with 0.1% P diet. These data suggest that 2 degrees HPT can be completely prevented at the levels of PTH secretion, synthesis and parathyroid cell proliferation by mild dietary P restriction (0.3%) alone, and that such effects may not depend upon the changes in serum concentrations of Ca, Pi or calcitriol, but may depend on reduced dietary P content per se. Thus, mild dietary P restriction from the early stage of CRF may be clinically effective for the prevention of 2 degrees HPT.