There is an accumulation of evidence implicating a role for vitamin D(3) in the developing brain. The receptor for this seco-steroid is expressed in both neurons and glial cells, it induces nerve growth factor (NGF) and it is a potent inhibitor of mitosis and promoter of differentiation in numerous cells. We have therefore assessed the direct effect of vitamin D(3) on mitosis, neurite outgrowth, as well as NGF production as a possible mediator of those effects, in developing neurons. Using cultured embryonic hippocampal cells and explants we found the addition of vitamin D(3) significantly decreases the percentage of cultured hippocampal cells undergoing mitosis in conjunction with increases in both neurite outgrowth and NGF production. The role of vitamin D(3) during brain development warrants closer scrutiny.