Epidemiological evidence suggests that dietary calcium and 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 (1,25-(OH)2D3) might have a protective effect against colorectal cancers. Since the presence of receptors is required for steroid action, specific 1,25-(OH)2D3 receptors (RD3) were investigated in biopsies taken at different levels of the colon. The study involved 90 biopsies from patients operated on for colorectal adenocarcinoma. They were paired biopsies from adenocarcinoma tissue and adjacent normal mucosa. In addition, 26 normal intestinal mucosa biopsies from patients without cancer were examined. RD3 receptors were assayed in tissue extract by the dextran-coated charcoal technique and also characterized by sucrose density gradient sedimentation. Scatchard analysis showed a single class of specific high affinity-low capacity sites binding for 1,25-(OH)2D3. The incidence of RD3 was 86 per cent in normal mucosa (n = 77) and lower in carcinoma (n = 34), for which the incidence decreased significantly (P less than 0.001) from right colon (58 per cent) to left colon (37 per cent) and rectum (19 per cent). These data suggest that the normal colon is a potential target organ for 1,25-(OH)2D3 which might modulate calcium transport in the colon. Loss of receptivity to 1,25-(OH)2D3 is associated with malignant transformation.