The past 30 years have seen substantial advances in our understanding of the pathogenesis of the mineral, hormonal and skeletal disorders that comprise renal osteodystrophy. The introduction of calcitriol and alfacalcidol as treatments for this disorder in the early 1970s represented an enormous step forward in clinical practice, but unfortunately, the subsequent refinement of these therapies still leaves us well short of the ideal: hyperphosphatemia and hypercalcemia induced by the vitamin D metabolites, and failure to control parathyroid hyperplasia, all remain problematic. Novel pulsed regimens using alfacalcidol and calcitriol, while clearly effective, have not fulfilled initial high expectations of superiority in the context of comparative studies. New vitamin D metabolites, some of which have exhibited desirable selectivity in experimental settings with reduced tendency to raise phosphate and/or calcium while maintaining good control of the parathyroid glands, are now being evaluated. Of these, 22-oxacalcitriol, paricalcitol (19 nor-1,25 dihydroxyvitamin D2) and doxercalciferol (1 alpha-hydroxyvitamin D2) have all shown high efficacy when compared with placebo, but so also did alfacalcidol and calcitriol in similar studies in the 1970s and 1980s. The results of randomized studies comparing the new vitamin D metabolites with current standard therapy (alfacalcidol or calcitriol) are either not yet available or show uncertain benefits in relation to hypercalcemia, hyperphosphatemia and hyperparathyroidism. The impact of these new metabolites on the increasing prevalence of low turnover bone disease is unknown, although experimentally there is evidence of potentially important differences at the level of the skeleton.