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Digestive Efficiency Mediated by Serum Calcium Predicts Bone Mineral Density in the Common Marmoset (Callithrix jacchus)



    Corresponding author
    1. Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, University of California, Los Angeles, California
    • Psychology Department, University of California, Davis, California
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    1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Washington, DC
    2. Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Nutrition Laboratory, Washington, DC
    3. Conservation Ecology Center, National Zoological Park, Washington, DC
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    1. Southwest National Primate Research Center, San Antonio, Texas
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    1. Southwest National Primate Research Center, San Antonio, Texas
    2. University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, San Antonio, Texas
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  • Contract grant sponsor: PHS; Contract grant number: R01-RR02022 (SDT); Contract grant sponsor: National Institutes of Health/National Center for Research Resources (NIH/NCRR); Contract grant number: P51 RR013986.

Correspondence to: Michael R. Jarcho, Department of Neuroscience, Loras College, 1450 Alta Vista St., Dubuque, IA 52001. E-mail:


Two health problems have plagued captive common marmoset (Callithrix jacchus) colonies for nearly as long as those colonies have existed: marmoset wasting syndrome and metabolic bone disease. While marmoset wasting syndrome is explicitly linked to nutrient malabsorption, we propose metabolic bone disease is also linked to nutrient malabsorption, although indirectly. If animals experience negative nutrient balance chronically, critical nutrients may be taken from mineral stores such as the skeleton, thus leaving those stores depleted. We indirectly tested this prediction through an initial investigation of digestive efficiency, as measured by apparent energy digestibility, and serum parameters known to play a part in metabolic bone mineral density of captive common marmoset monkeys. In our initial study on 12 clinically healthy animals, we found a wide range of digestive efficiencies, and subjects with lower digestive efficiency had lower serum vitamin D despite having higher food intakes. A second experiment on 23 subjects including several with suspected bone disease was undertaken to measure digestive and serum parameters, with the addition of a measure of bone mineral density by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA). Bone mineral density was positively associated with apparent digestibility of energy, vitamin D, and serum calcium. Further, digestive efficiency was found to predict bone mineral density when mediated by serum calcium. These data indicate that a poor ability to digest and absorb nutrients leads to calcium and vitamin D insufficiency. Vitamin D absorption may be particularly critical for indoor-housed animals, as opposed to animals in a more natural setting, because vitamin D that would otherwise be synthesized via exposure to sunlight must be absorbed from their diet. If malabsorption persists, metabolic bone disease is a possible consequence in common marmosets. These findings support our hypothesis that both wasting syndrome and metabolic bone disease in captive common marmosets are consequences of inefficient nutrient absorption. Am. J. Primatol. 75:153-160, 2013. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.