The chronic administration of 1,25-dihydroxycholecalciferol (1,25-(OH)2D3) to 9-day-old suckling rats induced no change on day 13 in the calcitonin (CT) mRNA steady-state level of thyroid glands measured by Northern hybridization. Thyroidal CT contents were decreased in relation to increased plasma calcium levels in animals treated with 0.1 or 1 microgram 1,25-(OH)2D3/kg. Using a lower dose (0.01 microgram/kg), neither plasma calcium, nor thyroidal CT contents were changed. No correlation was found between CT mRNA levels and thyroidal CT contents as well as for plasma CT levels and thyroidal CT contents since hormone in blood remained unchanged after treatment by the active vitamin D3 metabolite. Intraperitoneal calcium administration in fasted 13-day-old rats was associated with a 5-fold increase in plasma CT 30 min after injection, but CT mRNA levels were unchanged within 240 min. By contrast, stomach gavage with calcium in fasted 13-day-old rats induced a sustained increase in plasma CT (X2), and a 4-fold increase in the steady-state level of CT mRNA. Calcium per se is a potent stimulator of CT release in suckling rats, but did not change the amount of CT mRNA. However, gastrointestinal factors may be implied directly or indirectly in the increased CT mRNA level after calcium gavage. In conclusion, 1,25-(OH)2D3 which is known to affect CT gene expression in adult rats is ineffective in 13-day-old suckling rats. This observation may be related to developmental changes in the amount of 1,25-(OH)2D3 receptors of C cells.