Strategies and limitations associated with in vitro characterization of vitamin D receptor activators

Biochem Pharmacol. 2018 Sep:155:547-561. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2018.07.015. Epub 2018 Jul 18.


In vitro cell-based assays are common screening tools used for the identification of new VDR ligands. For 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 [25(OH)D3] and 1α-hydroxyvitamin D3 [1α(OH)D3], protein expressions of CYP2R1 and CYP27B1, respectively, that form the active 1α,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 [1,25(OH)2D3] ligand were detected in human embryonic kidney (HEK293) cells expressing the GAL4-hVDR, the human brain microvessel endothelial (hCMEC/D3) and adenocarcinoma colonic (Caco-2) cells. The impact of bioactivation enzymes was shown upon the addition of ketoconazole (10 μM KTZ), a pan-CYP inhibitor, which reduced the apparent potency of 25(OH)D3 and increased the EC50 from 272 to 608 nM in HEK293 cells. EIA assays verified that 1,25(OH)2D3 was formed and contributed to VDR activity independently of its precursors. In hCMEC/D3 cells where enzyme protein levels were lowest, changes in MDR1/P-gp expression with KTZ were minimal. In Caco-2 cells, the induction of TRPV6 (calcium channel), CYP24A1, CYP3A4, OATP1A2 and MDR1 mRNA expression was 1,25(OH)2D3 > 1α(OH)D3 > 25(OH)D3, with the magnitude of change being blunted by KTZ. Upon inclusion of KTZ in the cell-based assays, high transcriptional activities were observed for synthetic VDR activators from Teijin Pharma. Cyclopentanone derivatives: TPD-003, TPD-005, TPD-006, TPD-008 and TPD-009 (EC50s 0.06 to 67 nM, unchanged with KTZ) were found more potent over straight chain and lactone derivatives (antagonists). Most TPD compounds activated OATP1A2, CYP24A1, CYP3A4, and MDR1 (28-67%) and TRPV6 transcriptionally in Caco-2 cells. The results identified that cell-based assays with added KTZ could accurately identify new VDR activators, although these may be hypercalcemic with strong TRPV6 inducing properties.

Keywords: Activation enzymes; Cell-based assays; Inhibition; Strategy and characterization; Vitamin D receptor activators.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Caco-2 Cells
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Receptors, Calcitriol / agonists
  • Receptors, Calcitriol / metabolism*
  • Vitamin D / analogs & derivatives*
  • Vitamin D / pharmacology*


  • Receptors, Calcitriol
  • Vitamin D

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