The accumulated data indicate that bone mineral density (BMD) is decreased in humans with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. The purpose of this study was to prospectively determine sequential lumbar and femoral BMD utilizing dual energy X-ray absorptiometry in rats that spontaneously become diabetic to determine if weight and blood glucose control would prevent the diabetes-related bone mass changes. BMD of the lumbar spine and femur was measured prior to the onset of diabetes and at 3-week intervals after the diagnosis of diabetes for 12 weeks in 14 diabetes-prone BB/Wor rats (DP) and eight diabetes-resistant BB/Wor control rats (DR). At 12 weeks, the lumbar (0.238 +/- 0.013 vs 0.262 +/- 0.007 g/cm2, P < 0.001) and femoral (0.313 +/- 0.013 vs 0.343 +/- 0.013 g/cm2, P < 0.001) BMD were significantly lower in the DP rats despite significantly greater body weights (387 +/- 26 vs 329 +/- 46 g, P < 0.001) and plasma glucose levels of only 178 mg/dl. There was no difference in plasma values of calcium, phosphorus, osteocalcin, or tartrate-resistant acid phosphatase between groups or differences in osteoblast numbers in histologic sections. There was a significant (P < 0.001) decrease in plasma creatinine in the diabetic animals. The results indicate that in this animal model of type I diabetes, spine and femoral BMD do not increase comparable to control despite weight and blood glucose control. This would suggest that the diabetic condition itself affects bone mass in the absence of weight loss and poor blood glucose control.