The autonomy and functional role of fetal 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 [1,25(OH)2D3] were investigated in nondiabetic and diabetic BB rats fed diets containing 0.85% calcium-0.7% phosphorus or 0.2% calcium and phosphorus and in semistarved rats on the low calcium-phosphorus diet. The changes in maternal and fetal plasma 1,25(OH)2D3 were similar: the levels were increased by calcium-phosphorus restriction and decreased by diabetes and semistarvation. Maternal and fetal 1,25(OH)2D3 levels were correlated (r = 0.80; P less than 0.001). The vitamin D-dependent calcium-binding proteins (CaBP9K and CaBP28K) were measured in multiple maternal and fetal tissues and in the placenta of nondiabetic, diabetic, and calcium-phosphorus-restricted rats. The distributions of CaBP9K and CaBP28K in the pregnant rat were similar to that of the growing rat. The increased maternal plasma 1,25(OH)2D3 levels in calcium-phosphorus-restricted rats were associated with higher duodenal CaBP9K and renal CaBPs, but placental CaBP9K was not different. In diabetic pregnant rats, duodenal CaBP9K tended to be lower, while renal CaBPs were normal; placental CaBP9K was decreased. No significant changes in CaBP levels were observed in fetuses of low calcium-phosphorus diet rats or fetuses of diabetic rats. The results indicate that in the rat fetal 1,25(OH)2D3 depends on maternal 1,25(OH)2D3 or on factors regulating maternal 1,25(OH)2D3. The lack of changes in fetal CaBP in the presence of altered fetal plasma 1,25(OH)2D3 levels confirms earlier data showing that 1,25(OH)2D3 has a limited hormonal function during perinatal development in the rat.