Homologous up-regulation of calcitriol receptor (VDR) by calcitriol is believed to be a transcriptional event. In this experiment, we studied the effect of calcitriol on VDR in normal and renal failure rats. The time course of the effect of calcitriol on VDR mRNA showed a biphasic change in VDR mRNA in response to calcitriol. The concentration of intestinal VDR mRNA increased at six hours and reached peak levels approximately 15 hours after calcitriol injection. Thereafter, the mRNA began to decrease and by 48 hours the level had declined to below the control values. The VDR levels also increased, though they lagged behind the VDR mRNA, and nearly plateaued at 24 hours after calcitriol treatment. In renal failure, the concentrations of VDR were lower and the levels of VDR mRNA were higher than the respective values of normal rats, suggesting that VDR synthesis was inhibited at post-transcriptional sites. Chronic administration of calcitriol increased the VDR but lowered the VDR mRNA levels in both normal and renal failure rats. Infusion of uremic ultrafiltrate to normal rats resulted in lower VDR and higher VDR mRNA levels similar to those found in rats with renal failure. The results indicate that uremic toxins are responsible for the low VDR and high VDR mRNA in renal failure.