A line of transgenic mice expressing a human osteocalcin genomic fragment (hOClocus) and a murine MC3T3-E1 cell line containing a stably integrated human osteocalcin promoter construct have been developed to characterize the osteogenic and hormonal regulation of human osteocalcin in vivo and in vitro. In this study, we used these models to demonstrate a species difference in the regulation of the mouse and human osteocalcin genes by vitamin D. Repeated administration of 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 (1,25(OH)2D3) to mice carrying the hOClocus transgene resulted in striking increases in serum human osteocalcin, whereas serum mouse osteocalcin levels were unchanged after 24 h and only modestly increased 48 h after the second dose of hormone. 1,25(OH)2D3 increased human calvarial mRNA expression by 1.8-fold and slightly decreased mouse osteocalcin mRNA levels by approximately 1.2-fold. Furthermore, treatment of primary calvarial osteoblasts from these mice with 1,25(OH)2D3 increased human osteocalcin production but inhibited mouse osteocalcin protein accumulation. To investigate further the mechanism for the apparent species difference in vitamin D3 induction of mouse and human osteocalcin, we examined the effect of 1,25(OH)2D3 in an MC3T3-E1 cell line (MC4) containing a stably integrated 3900 bp osteocalcin promoter-luciferase construct. Treatment of MC4 cells with ascorbic acid resulted in parallel increases of the endogenous mouse osteocalcin protein and luciferase reporter activity over a 12-day period. Continuous exposure of MCA cells to 1,25(OH)2D3 resulted in time- and dose-dependent increases in the activity of the phOC3900 luciferase construct. By contrast, the hormone had no effect on mouse osteocalcin protein concentrations and inhibited its induction by ascorbic acid. However, when cells were treated acutely with 1,25(OH)2D3 at later times during growth in ascorbic acid, the induction of mouse osteocalcin protein was only partially inhibited. In conclusion, our results indicate that common osteogenic signals regulate both mouse and human osteocalcin gene expression, but the mouse gene is resistant to induction by vitamin D. This species difference in vitamin D regulation of osteocalcin appears to result from the failure of 1,25(OH)2D3 to transcriptionally activate the mouse osteocalcin gene.