The ability of the hormonally active vitamin D metabolite, 1 alpha, 25-dihydroxyvitamin D3, to affect cell growth, morphology and fibronectin production has been examined using the MG-63 human osteosarcoma cell line. Hormone treatment reduced cell growth rate, saturation density and [3H]thymidine incorporation. Inhibition was specific for 1 alpha, 25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 relative to other vitamin D metabolites (1 alpha, 25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 greater than 25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 greater than 24R,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 greater than D3), antagonized by high concentrations of serum and readily reversed by removal of 1 alpha, 25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 from the culture medium. Hormone treatment also increased cell associated alkaline phosphatase activity up to twofold and altered morphology such that treated cells were more spread out on the culture dish and contained more cytoplasmic processes. Significantly, 1 alpha, 25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 increased cellular and medium concentrations of fibronectin, a glycoprotein known to be involved in cellular adhesiveness. MG-63 cells contain a specific 1 alpha, 25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 receptor which may mediate these responses.