Prostate cancer is a major cause of male cancer death. In vitro and in vivo data support a role for 1 alpha,25 Dihydroxyvitamin D(3) (1 alpha,25(OH)(2)D(3)) in regulating the growth and differentiation of the normal prostate gland yet prostate cancer cells appear significantly less sensitive to this action. Vitamin D(3) receptor (VDR) content or mutational status do not correlate clearly with the antiproliferative effects of 1 alpha,25(OH)(2)D(3) and therefore it is unclear why prostate cancer cell lines are significantly less sensitive to this action. We hypothesized that the antiproliferative responses of prostate cancer cells to 1 alpha,25(OH)(2)D(3) are suppressed by a process involving histone deacetylation. Sodium butyrate (NaB) and trichostatin A (TSA) are inhibitors of histone deacetylase (HDAC) activity. Low doses of NaB or TSA (300 microM and 15 nM respectively), which alone were relatively inactive, synergized with 1 alpha,25(OH)(2)D(3) in liquid and semi-solid agar to inhibit the growth of LNCaP, PC-3 and DU-145 prostate cancer cells. Still greater synergy was observed between vitamin D(3) hexafluoride analogs and either NaB or TSA. The mechanism appeared to involve neither the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor, p21((waf1/cip1)) nor cell cycle arrest, but rather induction of apoptosis. These data suggest that cells dysregulate the normal pro-apoptotic signals of 1 alpha,25(OH)(2)D(3) during prostate cancer development by a mechanism involving histone deacetylation. Combination therapy with potent vitamin D(3) analogs and clinically approved HDAC inhibitors may overcome this lesion and improve the treatment of both androgen-dependent and independent prostate cancer.