1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 (1,25(OH)2D3) is an important regulator of bone metabolism involved in both formation and resorption. Traditionally it was assumed that vitamin D receptors are intracellular. Recent data indicate that vitamin D may also act through a membrane receptor, specifically raising intracellular calcium and inositol 1,4,5 triphosphate. The present study was undertaken to explore further the mechanism(s) of vitamin D-induced bone resorption in cultured bone. 1,25(OH)2D3 induced a dose-dependent increase of calcium efflux from cultured bone. This increase was completely obliterated by inhibition of protein kinase C (PKC) with either staurosporine or calphostin C. In cultured rat calvariae, 1,25(OH)2D3 also induced a dose-dependent translocation of PKC from cytosol to membrane. The activation of PKC by 1,25(OH)2D3 occurred following a 30-s incubation, peaked at 1 minute, and disappeared by 5 minutes. 1,25(OH)2D3 did not increase cAMP production in similarly cultured calvaria. These results suggest that the action of 1,25(OH)2D3 on calcium flux from cultured bone is mediated, in part, via activation of PKC.