AIMS: To determine whether the vitamin D receptor is expressed in colorectal cancer, and its relation to stage of disease. METHODS: Paraffin embedded sections of colorectal cancer from 30 patients who had undergone surgery were studied. Immunohistochemistry using the specific monoclonal antibody 9A7 gamma directed against the nuclear vitamin D receptor was used to identify receptors for the active metabolite of vitamin D3 (1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3). RESULTS: Microscopically normal human colorectal epithelium showed vitamin D receptor expression predominantly in the mid and upper crypts. All the colorectal cancer tissue studied showed vitamin D receptor expression, with a median of 25.3 (range 10.1 to 43.7) cells/graticule field (x 400). Although vitamin D receptor staining was heterogeneous within the individual cancers, neither Dukes stage nor the degree of differentiation appeared to influence expression of the receptor. CONCLUSIONS: Colorectal cancer tissue expresses the nuclear vitamin D receptor and this could act as a potential therapeutic target for synthetic vitamin D3 differentiating agents.