Since its discovery in 1920, a great deal of effort has gone into investigating the physiological actions of vitamin D and the impact its deficiency has on human health. Despite this intense interest, there is still disagreement on what constitutes the lower boundary of adequacy and on the Recommended Dietary Allowance. There has also been a major push to elucidate the biochemistry of vitamin D, its metabolic pathways and the mechanisms that mediate its action. Originally thought to act by altering the expression of target genes, it was realized in the mid-1980s that some of the actions of vitamin D were too rapid to be accounted for by changes at the genomic level. These rapid non-genomic actions have attracted as much interest as the genomic actions and they have spawned additional questions in an already busy field. This mini-review attempts to summarise the in vitro
and in vivo
work that has been conducted to characterise the rapid non-genomic actions, the mechanisms that give rise to these properties and the roles that these play in the overall action of vitamin D at the cellular level. Understanding the effects of vitamin D at the cellular level should enable the design of elegant human studies to extract the full potential of vitamin D to benefit human health.
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