Vitamin D and differentiation in cancer

Crit Rev Clin Lab Sci. 2009;46(4):190-209. doi: 10.1080/10408360902982128.


This paper reviews the current understanding of the vitamin D-induced differentiation of neoplastic cells, which results in the generation of cells that acquire near-normal, mature phenotype. Examples of the criteria by which differentiation is recognized in each cell type are provided, and only those effects of 1alpha,25-dihydroxyvitamin D(3) (1,25D) on cell proliferation and survival that are associated with the differentiation process are emphasized. The existing knowledge, often fragmentary, of the signaling pathways that lead to vitamin D-induced differentiation of colon, breast, prostate, squamous cell carcinoma, osteosarcoma, and myeloid leukemia cancer cells is outlined. The important distinctions between the different mechanisms of 1,25D-induced differentiation that are cell-type and cell-context specific are pointed out where known. There is a considerable body of evidence that the principal human cancer cells can be suitable candidates for chemoprevention or differentiation therapy with vitamin D. However, further studies are needed to fully understand the underlying mechanisms in order to improve the therapeutic approaches.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcitriol / pharmacology*
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / pathology*


  • Calcitriol