- 1,25-Dihydroxyvitamin D3 (1,25[OH]2D3) was found to suppress growth of human leukemic cells (HL-60), and to induce the differentiation of these cells to monocyte-like cells. The purpose of the present study was to examine the role of calcium ions in the effects of 1,25(OH)2D3 on HL-60 cells. Incubation of the HL-60 cells with 1,25(OH)2D3 (10(-7) M) for 4 days caused a significant inhibition of 50% of cell growth. The number of differentiated cells increased simultaneously from 24 x 10(3) +/- 2 x 10(3) in the controls to 658 x 10(3) +/- 32 x 10(3) in the 1,25(OH)2D3 (10(-7) M)-treated cells. The role of calcium ions in the effects of 1,25(OH)2D3 on HL-60 cells was first studied by changing the available calcium in the medium and by measuring the effect of 1,25(OH)2D3 on intracellular Ca2+ levels. Limitation of the available Ca2+ by means of ethyleneglycol-bis-(beta-aminoethyl ether)-N,N,N',N'-tetraacetic acid (EGTA) or verapamil enhanced the inhibitory effect on proliferation and decreased the number of differentiated cells obtained by 1,25(OH)2D3 alone. These effects could be abolished by restoring the Ca2+ levels. The role of the intracellular free Ca2+ ions in the effect of 1,25(OH)2D3 was further illustrated by measuring the intracellular Ca2+ levels. The intracellular free Ca2+ concentration in 1,25(OH)2D3 (10(-7) M)-treated HL-60 cells rose significantly from 117.0 +/- 6.3 nM in the untreated HL-60 cells to 145.0 +/- 7.5 nM in the treated cells (p less than 0.02). Addition of verapamil moderated the increase in intracellular free Ca2+ (125.0 +/- 5.2 nM) obtained by 1,25(OH)2D3 alone. Thus the elevation of intracellular free Ca2+ caused by 1,25(OH)2D3 treatment may be involved in the effect of the hormone on the HL-60 cells.