Vitamin D has been shown to stimulate renal phosphate transport and to alter membrane phospholipid composition. The present studies examine the possibility that the effects of 1,25(OH)2D3 on phosphate transport are related to its effects on membrane lipids. Arrhenius plots, which relate maximum rates of sodium dependent phosphate uptake into brush-border membrane vesicles to temperature were constructed. Phosphate transport was studied using brush-border membrane vesicles from normal, vitamin D-deficient, and physiologically replete (15 pmol/100 g body weight per 24 h) rats. These plots were triphasic with characteristic, lipid-dependent, slopes (M1,M2,M3) representing activation energies and transition temperatures (T1,T2). Physiologic 1,25(OH)2D3 repletion normalized these plots by stimulating phosphate transport at all temperatures, increasing T2 from 18 +/- 0.7 to 23.5 +/- 0.9 degrees C and decreasing M2 and M3 from -5.8 +/- 0.2 and -10.2 +/- 0.4 to -4.5 +/- 0.4 and -7.7 +/- 0.3, respectively. Pharmacologic (1.2 nmol/100 g per 3 h) 1,25(OH)2D3 treatment resulted in a change in the Arrhenius plot of phosphate transport to a biphasic one with a transition temperature of 30 degrees C. This effect was not blocked by cycloheximide. The Arrhenius plots of glucose transport were triphasic and unchanged with vitamin D repletion. These data support a liponomic mechanism of action for 1,25(OH)2D3 on phosphate transport.