Structural Studies of Vitamin D Nuclear Receptor Ligand-Binding Properties

Vitam Horm. 2016:100:83-116. doi: 10.1016/bs.vh.2015.10.003. Epub 2015 Nov 27.


The vitamin D nuclear receptor (VDR) and its natural ligand, 1α,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 hormone (1,25(OH)2D3, or calcitriol), classically regulate mineral homeostasis and metabolism but also much broader range of biological functions, such as cell growth, differentiation, antiproliferation, apoptosis, adaptive/innate immune responses. Being widely expressed in various tissues, VDR represents an important therapeutic target in the treatment of diverse disorders. Since ligand binding is a key step in VDR-mediated signaling, numerous 1,25(OH)2D3 analogs have been synthesized in order to selectively modulate the receptor activity. Most of the synthetic analogs have been developed by modification of a parental compound and some of them mimic 1,25(OH)2D3 scaffold without being structurally related to it. The ability of ligands that have different size and conformation to bind to VDR and to demonstrate biological effects is intriguing, and therefore, ligand-binding properties of the receptor have been extensively investigated using a variety of biochemical, biophysical, and computational methods. In this chapter, we describe different aspects of the structure-function relationship of VDR in complex with natural and synthetic ligands coming from structural analysis. With the emphasis on the binding modes of the most promising compounds, such as secosteroidal agonists and 1,25(OH)2D3 mimics, we also highlight the action of VDR antagonists and the evidence for the existence of an alternative ligand-binding site within the receptor. Additionally, we describe the crystal structures of VDR mutants associated with hereditary vitamin D-resistant rickets that display impaired ligand-binding function.

Keywords: 3D model; Agonist; Antagonist; Crystal structure; Crystallography; Ligand-binding domain; Nuclear receptor; Superagonist; VD mimics; Vitamin D nuclear receptor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Calcitriol / agonists*
  • Calcitriol / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Calcitriol / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Models, Molecular
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Conformation
  • Receptors, Calcitriol / agonists*
  • Receptors, Calcitriol / metabolism*


  • Ligands
  • Receptors, Calcitriol
  • Calcitriol