Several studies of diabetes mellitus patients have demonstrated abnormalities in calcium, phosphate and vitamin D metabolism. In an earlier study, the authors reported impaired renal processing of phosphate in spontaneously diabetic GK rats, an animal model of type II diabetes mellitus. In the present study, which represents an extension of the earlier study, vitamin D metabolism and response are examined in 20-week-old GK rats. Serum 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D [1,25-(OH)2D] was found to be lower in GK rats than in Wistar rats. After intraperitoneal administration of 0.5 micrograms/kg 1,25-(OH)2D, serum calcium increased in GK rats, but not in Wistar rats, while serum phosphate remained unchanged in GK rats, but increased in Wistar rats. Although serum 1,25-(OH)2D rose abruptly in 3 h and decreased thereafter in both GK and Wistar rats, the decrease in serum 1,25-(OH)2D at 6 h was more marked in GK rats than in Wistar rats. Serum 24,25-dihydroxyvitamin D was consistently higher in GK rats than in Wistar rats. Northern blotting and dot blotting with use of a cDNA probe for the 24-hydroxylase gene showed an increased expression of the gene in the kidney of GK rats. These results demonstrate impaired vitamin D metabolism in GK rats. Increased activity of 24-hydroxylase, in addition to impaired phosphate metabolism, may play a role in impaired vitamin D metabolism in GK rats.