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Editor's Correspondence
September 26, 2005

Fortuitous Photograph of the Most Arthritis-Afflicted of the Woodpeckers

Arch Intern Med. 2005;165(17):2037. doi:10.1001/archinte.165.17.2037-a

The photograph of the Northern flicker Colaptes auratus by Anderson Renick, Jr, MD, adorning the April 25, 2005, cover of the Archives of Internal Medicine illustrates a species apparently unique pathologically among woodpeckers. A survey of woodpeckers (exclusive of the elusive ivory-billed Campephilus principalis) revealed that 10% of Northern flicker have arthritis, the highest frequency among woodpeckers (Table). Localized to the ankle (morphologically analogous to the knee of humans), osteoarthritis was identified on the basis of joint remodeling with spur (osteophyte) formation.1,2 Radiologic examination of intact birds and macroscopic examination of their skeletons revealed the statistically significant (Fisher exact test, P = .04) increased prevalence of osteoarthritis in this species. Independence of frequency of osteoarthritis and weight3 provides an opportunity to determine other contributing factors. Given the prominence of osteoarthritis as a human affliction and the shortcomings of current animal models,3-6 birds appear to offer a new model for its study. Renick’s photograph draws attention to this potential new model peeking out at us.

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