Melanin synthesis of B16 mouse melanoma cells was found to be stimulated dose and time dependently by 1 alpha,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 [1 alpha,25(OH)2D3], the hormonal form of vitamin D3. The stimulation of melanogenesis resulted from an increase in the activity of tyrosinase, a key enzyme in melanin synthesis. The minimum dose required for this stimulation was as low as 0.05 ng/ml, or 0.12 nM, a physiological level of plasma 1 alpha,25(OH)2D3. The stimulation by 1 alpha,25(OH)2D3 was specific; other derivatives of vitamin D3 caused no stimulation at a concentration of 500 ng/ml. When the cells were plated on agar plates, the proportion of dark or black colonies was not increased by the exposure to 1 alpha,25(OH)2D3. Furthermore, this compound did not induce melanin synthesis of an amelanotic variant. Thus, its stimulatory effect seemed to be due to stimulation of melanin synthesis of melanotic cells, rather than to conversion of amelanotic clones to melanotic ones. 1 alpha,25(OH)2D3 did not induce intracellular cyclic adenosine 3':5'-monophosphate, while cholera toxin induced cyclic adenosine 3':5'-monophosphate and stimulated melanin synthesis and tyrosinase activity much more than did 1 alpha,25(OH)2D3, suggesting that 1 alpha,25(OH)2D3 stimulates melanin synthesis by a cyclic adenosine 3':5'-monophosphate-independent mechanism. B16 melanoma cells contained specific receptors for 1 alpha,25(OH)2D3. Scatchard plot analysis revealed two types of receptor; the high-affinity receptor had a Kd of 18.3 pM and an Nmax of 10.6 fmol/mg of protein. The specificity of receptor binding was demonstrated by studies showing that, for 50% displacement of 1 alpha,alpha,25(OH)2D3 binding, other derivatives were required at 500 times higher concentrations or more. In contrast to 1 alpha,25(OH)2D3, retinoic acid inhibited melanin synthesis and tyrosinase activity of B16 melanoma cells dose and time dependently. On simultaneous treatment, 1 alpha,25(OH)2D3 and retinoic acid caused mutual interference, and a balance between their respective stimulating and inhibitory effects was obtained at a molar ratio of 10:1; i.e., with 10 nM 1 alpha,25(OH)2D3 and 1 nM retinoic acid.