Vitamin D: an ancient hormone

Exp Dermatol. 2011 Jan;20(1):7-13. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0625.2010.01202.x.


Vitamin D has been produced by plants and animals almost from the time life began. The ability to transport and metabolize vitamin D to more active forms evolved as the structures of plants and animals became more complex, and the cells within these organisms took on more specialized functions. In higher-order animals, the vitamin D receptor (VDR) is found in nearly every cell, and the ability of the cell to produce the active hormone, 1,25(OH)2D, is also widely distributed. Furthermore, the physiological functions with which vitamin D signalling is now associated are as diverse as the tissues in which the VDR is located. Why is this, and is there a common theme? This viewpoint article argues that there is. All cells maintain a fairly constant and submicromolar concentration of free calcium. Calcium is an important regulator of many processes within the cell. The ebb and flow of calcium within cells is controlled by calcium pumps, antiporters and channels. Animals with calcified exo- or endoskeletons have an additional need for calcium, a need that changes during the life cycle of the organism. In this article, I make the case that vitamin D signalling evolved to enable the organism to effectively regulate calcium flux, storage and signalling and that such regulation is critical for the evolutionary process.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Calcium Signaling
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology
  • Hormones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Immune System / physiology
  • Keratinocytes / cytology
  • Keratinocytes / physiology
  • Models, Biological
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Plant Physiological Phenomena
  • Receptors, Calcitriol / genetics
  • Receptors, Calcitriol / physiology
  • Vitamin D / physiology*


  • Hormones
  • Receptors, Calcitriol
  • Vitamin D