Renal transplant patients immunosuppressed with cyclosporine A (CsA) exhibit both a significant bone loss and an increased rate of bone fractures. An association between common allelic variants of the the vitamin D receptor (VDR) gene and bone mineral density and turnover has been reported in adults. However, the genetic influence on the rate of bone loss after renal transplantation has not been explored. We prospectively determined the changes in spinal mineral density in 34 consecutive nondiabetic adults who received a cadaveric renal allograft. Serum biochemical markers of bone metabolism and the vertebral mineral density (VMD) assessed by quantitative computed tomography were determined at the time of transplantation and three and twelve months later. In fifteen patients the histomorphometric features of iliac bone were analyzed at baseline and twelve months after transplantation. VDR alleles were typed by a PCR assay based on a polymorphic BsmI restriction site. Patients with the so-called "favorable" bb genotype (N = 12) were compared with those with the Bb or BB genotype (N = 22). Baseline VMD was similar in patients with or without the favorable bb genotype. Three months after transplantation the mean (+/- SD) VMD decreased 14 +/- 13.3 percent in all patients (16.5 +/- 13.1% in patients homozygous for the b allele and 13.77 +/- 13.9% in those with Bb or BB genotypes). The rate of VMD loss at this time inversely correlated with pretransplant PTH levels (r = -0.40; P < 0.05). Between 3 and 12 months after transplantation, patients with the favorable bb genotype recovered more VMD than those with Bb or BB types and showed a significantly higher Z score at the end of the follow-up (-0.37 +/- 1.16 vs. -1.10 +/- 1.20, respectively; P < 0.05). The beneficial effect of bb genotype was independent of the prevailing PTH levels and was also observed in those patients with a baseline PTH level < 250 pg/ml (final Z score: bb, -0.42 +/- 1.3, N = 11; Bb/BB, -1.35 +/- 0.8, N = 11, P < 0.05). At the end of follow-up, the histomorphometric studies showed a higher bone formation rate adjusted for PTH levels in patients with the Bb or BB genotype than in those with the favorable bb genotype (0.29 +/- 0.06 vs. 0.21 +/- 0.08 micron3/micron2/day respectively; P < 0.05). In conclusion, high pretransplant PTH levels enhance the early trabecular bone loss after renal transplantation, and functionally different alleles of the vitamin D receptor gene may condition the bone turnover and the degree of recovery of the bone mass.