Endocrine actions of vitamin D in skin: Relevance for photocarcinogenesis of non-melanoma skin cancer, and beyond

Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2017 Sep 15:453:96-102. doi: 10.1016/j.mce.2017.05.001. Epub 2017 May 16.


The skin represents a pivotal organ for the human body's vitamin D endocrine system, being both the site of ultraviolet (UV)-B-induced vitamin D synthesis and a target tissue for the pluripotent effects of 1,25(OH)2D3 and other biologically active vitamin D metabolites. As many other steroid hormones, 1,25(OH)2D3 exerts its effects via two independent signal transduction pathways: the classical genomic and the non-genomic pathway. While non-genomic effects of 1,25(OH)2D3 are in part exerted via effects on intracellular calcium, genomic effects are mediated by the vitamin D receptor (VDR). Recent findings convincingly support the concept of a new function of the VDR as a tumor suppressor in skin, with key components of the vitamin D endocrine system, including VDR, CYP24A1, CYP27A1, and CYP27B1 being strongly expressed in non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC). It has now been shown that anti-tumor effects of VDR, that include some of its ligand-induced growth-regulatory effects, are at least in part mediated by interacting in a highly coordinated manner with the p53 family (p53/p63/p73) in response to a large number of alterations in cell homeostasis, including UV-induced DNA damage, a hallmark for skin photocarcinogenesis. Considering the relevance of the vitamin D endocrine system for carcinogenesis of skin cancer, it is not surprising that low 25(OH)D serum concentrations and genetic variants (SNPs) of the vitamin D endocrine system have been identified as potential risk factors for occurrence and prognosis of skin malignancies. In conclusion, an increasing body of evidence now convincingly supports the concept that the vitamin D endocrine system is of relevance for photocarcinogenesis and progression of NMSC and that its pharmacologic modulation by vitamin D, 1,25(OH)2D3, and analogs represents a promising new strategy for prevention and/or treatment of these malignancies.

Keywords: Photocarcinogenesis; Skin; Skin cancer; Vitamin D; Vitamin D endocrine system; Vitamin D receptor; p53.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Carcinogenesis / metabolism*
  • Cytochromes / metabolism
  • DNA Damage
  • Endocrine System / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Calcitriol / genetics
  • Receptors, Calcitriol / metabolism
  • Skin / metabolism*
  • Skin / pathology
  • Skin / radiation effects
  • Skin Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Skin Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / genetics
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects
  • Vitamin D / metabolism*
  • Vitamin D / radiation effects


  • Cytochromes
  • Receptors, Calcitriol
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • VDR protein, human
  • Vitamin D
  • Calcium