enzymatic hydroxylation reactions. The first takes place in the liver, mediated by the 25-hydroxylase (most likely cytochrome P450 2R1 [CYP2R1]) which forms 25-hydroxyvitamin D (hereafter referred to as 25OHD). The second reaction takes place in the kidney, mediated by 1α-hydroxylase (CYP27B1), which converts 25OHD to the biologically active hormone, calcitriol (1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D). The 1α-hydroxylase gene is also expressed in several extra-renal tissues, but its contribution to calcitriol formation in these tissues is unknown. 25OHD, the precursor of calcitriol, is the major circulating form of vitamin D; it circulates bound to a specific plasma carrier protein, vitamin D binding protein (DBP). DBP also transports vitamin D and calcitriol.
The renal synthesis of calcitriol is tightly regulated by two counter-acting hormones, with up-regulation via parathyroid hormone (PTH) and down-regulation via fibroblast-like growth factor-23 (FGF23) (Galitzer et al., 2008; Bergwitz and Juppner, 2010). Low serum phosphorus levels stimulate calcitriol synthesis, whereas high serum phosphorus levels inhibit it. Following its synthesis in the kidney, calcitriol binds to DBP to be transported to target organs. The biological actions of calcitriol, involve regulation of gene expression at the transcriptional level, and are mediated through binding to a vitamin D receptor (VDR), located primarily in the nuclei of target cells (Jones et al., 1998; Jurutka et al., 2001). Additional hydroxylation reactions, such as that mediated by CYP24A1, as shown in Figure 3-1, result in more polar metabolites with greatly reduced or no apparent biological activity.
The classical actions of vitamin D—which by itself is inactive—are due to the functions of the active metabolite, calcitriol. These actions take the form of the regulation of serum calcium and phosphate homeostasis and, in turn, the development and maintenance of bone health (DeLuca, 1988; Reichel et al., 1989; Jones et al., 1998). Non-classical functions are less well elucidated. VDRs are found fairly ubiquitously throughout the body in tissues not involved with calcium and phosphate homeostasis, and the presence of VDRs in these tissues implies that calcitriol may play a more general role or that ligands other than calcitriol can activate the VDR. Furthermore, the specific vitamin D–responsive elements (VDREs), considered the hallmark of vitamin D action, are present in a large number of human genes involved in a wide range of classical and non-classical roles, such as the regulation of cell proliferation, cell differentiation, and apoptosis. It has been suggested that calcitriol exerts immunomodulatory and anti-proliferative effects through autocrine and paracrine pathways (Adams and Hewison, 2008). These wide-ranging actions of calcitriol have further been hypothesized to play a potential role in preventive or therapeutic action in cancer (Masuda and Jones, 2006) and chronic conditions such