1,25-Dihydroxvitamin D3 [1,25(OH)2D3] is the hormonally active form of vitamin D. The genomic mechanism of 1,25(OH)2D3 action involves the direct binding of the 1,25(OH)2D3 activated vitamin D receptor/retinoic X receptor (VDR/RXR) heterodimeric complex to specific DNA sequences. Numerous VDR co-regulatory proteins have been identified, and genome-wide studies have shown that the actions of 1,25(OH)2D3 involve regulation of gene activity at a range of locations many kilobases from the transcription start site. The structure of the liganded VDR/RXR complex was recently characterized using cryoelectron microscopy, X-ray scattering, and hydrogen deuterium exchange. These recent technological advances will result in a more complete understanding of VDR coactivator interactions, thus facilitating cell and gene specific clinical applications. Although the identification of mechanisms mediating VDR-regulated transcription has been one focus of recent research in the field, other topics of fundamental importance include the identification and functional significance of proteins involved in the metabolism of vitamin D. CYP2R1 has been identified as the most important 25-hydroxylase, and a critical role for CYP24A1 in humans was noted in studies showing that inactivating mutations in CYP24A1 are a probable cause of idiopathic infantile hypercalcemia. In addition, studies using knockout and transgenic mice have provided new insight on the physiological role of vitamin D in classical target tissues as well as evidence of extraskeletal effects of 1,25(OH)2D3 including inhibition of cancer progression, effects on the cardiovascular system, and immunomodulatory effects in certain autoimmune diseases. Some of the mechanistic findings in mouse models have also been observed in humans. The identification of similar pathways in humans could lead to the development of new therapies to prevent and treat disease.
This review describes the key discoveries over the last 15 years that have led to a clearer understanding of the molecular mechanisms by which bisphosphonate drugs inhibit bone resorption. Once released from bone mineral surfaces during bone resorption, these agents accumulate intracellularly in osteoclasts. Simple bisphosphonates such as clodronate are incorporated into non-hydrolysable analogues of adenosine triphosphate, which induce osteoclast apoptosis. The considerably more potent nitrogen-containing bisphosphonates are not metabolised but potently inhibit farnesyl pyrophosphate (FPP) synthase, a key enzyme of the mevalonate pathway. This prevents the synthesis of isoprenoid lipids necessary for the post-translational prenylation of small GTPases, thereby disrupting the subcellular localisation and normal function of these essential signalling proteins. Inhibition of FPP synthase also results in the accumulation of the upstream metabolite isopentenyl diphosphate, which is incorporated into the toxic nucleotide metabolite ApppI. Together, these properties explain the ability of bisphosphonate drugs to inhibit bone resorption by disrupting osteoclast function and survival. These discoveries are also giving insights into some of the adverse effects of bisphosphonates, such as the acute phase reaction that is triggered by inhibition of FPP synthase in peripheral blood monocytes.