We previously demonstrated that 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 [1,25(OH)2D3] inhibits myocyte maturation (T. D. O'Connell, D. A. Giacherio, A. K. Jarvis, and R. U. Simpson. Endocrinology 136: 482-488, 1995). To define further the role of 1,25(OH)2D3 in regulating myocardial development, we examined the effects of 1,25(OH)2D3 on proliferation and growth of primary cultures of ventricular myocytes isolated from neonatal rat hearts. When neonatal myocytes were grown in a serum-supplemented medium, cell number approximately doubled, and treating these myocytes with 1,25(OH)2D3 inhibited their proliferation by 56.56% after 4 days. Flow cytometry revealed that 1,25(OH)2D3 reduced the percentage of cells in the S phase of the cell cycle by 31.39% after 4 days. We show for the first time that proliferating cell nuclear antigen protein levels were specifically reduced by 1,25(OH)2D3. Protooncogene c-myc protein levels were also reduced by this hormone. Interestingly, a phorbol ester had a similar effect on myocyte proliferation. Furthermore, 1,25(OH)2D3 increased myocyte protein levels and increased cell size, suggesting that it induces cardiac myocyte hypertrophy. Our findings indicate that 1,25(OH)2D3 and phorbol esters directly regulate myocyte proliferation and induce myocyte hypertrophy. Finally, the data demonstrate that the mechanism by which 1,25(OH)2D3 regulates myocyte proliferation involves blocking entry into the S phase of the cell cycle.