Unimpaired vitamin D action has been implicated in human cancer prevention. We have previously demonstrated the effectiveness of 1 alpha-dihydroxyvitamin D3 (1,25-D3) to reduce proliferation and increase differentiation in human colon cancer cells. The aim of this study was to investigate, on the one hand, expression of the vitamin D receptor (VDR) and of 25-hydroxyvitamin D(3)-1 alpha-hydroxylase (1 alpha-hydroxylase) in human normal and malignant colonic tissue and, on the other hand, to determine consequences of reduced or lacking VDR action in a VDR knockout mouse model. In low-grade malignancies of the human colon we found increased VDR and 1 alpha-hydroxylase mRNA expression. However, in late-stage high-grade tumors the vitamin D system is severely compromised. In the mouse colon we found an inverse relationship between VDR levels and proliferation in colon descendens, a tissue known to be specifically affected by nutrients during carcinogenesis. Expression of 8-hydroxy-2'-deoxyguanosine (8-OHdG), a marker of oxidative DNA damage, was significantly augmented with complete loss of VDR. These data suggest that genomic 1,25-D(3) action is necessary to protect against nutrition-linked hyperproliferation and oxidative DNA damage.