BACKGROUND: The most serious complication of subcutaneous fat necrosis (SCFN), a rare condition of the newborn characterized by indurated purple nodules, is hypercalcaemia. However, the mechanism for this hypercalcaemia remains unclear. OBJECTIVES: To determine whether the hypercalcaemia associated with SCFN involves expression of the vitamin D-activating enzyme 25-hydroxyvitamin D(3)-1alpha-hydroxylase (1alpha-hydroxylase) in affected tissue. METHODS: Skin biopsies from two male patients with SCFN and hypercalcaemia were taken. The histological specimens were assessed using a polyclonal antibody against 1alpha-hydroxylase. RESULTS: Histology in both cases showed strong expression of 1alpha-hydroxylase protein (brown staining) within the inflammatory infiltrate associated with SCFN. This was consistent with similar experiments in other granulomatous conditions. CONCLUSIONS: Hypercalcaemia in SCFN appears to be due to abundant levels of 1alpha-hydroxylase in immune infiltrates associated with tissue lesions. This is consistent with previous observations of extrarenal 1alpha-hydroxylase in skin from other granulomatous conditions such as sarcoidosis and slack skin disease.