The clinical use of aminoglycosides often leads to renal magnesium wasting and hypomagnesemia. Of the nephron segments, both the thick ascending limb of Henle's loop and the distal tubule play significant roles in renal magnesium conservation but the distal convoluted tubule exerts the final control of urinary excretion. An immortalized mouse distal convoluted tubule (MDCT) cell line has been extensively used to study the cellular mechanisms of magnesium transport in this nephron segment. Peptide hormones, such as parathyroid hormone (PTH), glucagon, calcitonin, and arginine vasopressin (AVP) stimulate Mg2+ uptake in MDCT cells that is modulated by extracellular polyvalent cations, Ca2+ and Mg2+. The present studies determined the effect of aminoglycosides on parathyroid hormone (PTH)-mediated cAMP formation and Mg2+ uptake in MDCT cells. Gentamicin, a prototypic aminoglycoside, elicited transient increases in intracellular Ca2+ from basal levels of 102 +/- 13 nM to 713 +/- 125 nM, suggesting a receptor-mediated response. In order to determine Mg2+ transport, MDCT cells were Mg(2+)-depleted by culturing in Mg(2+)-free media for 16 h and Mg2+ uptake was measured by microfluorescence after placing the depleted cells in 1.0 mM MgCl2. The mean rate of Mg2+ uptake, d([Mg2+]i)/dt, was 138 +/- 24 nM/s in control MDCT cells. Gentamicin (50 microM) did not affect basal Mg2+ uptake (105 +/- 29 nM/s), but inhibited PTH stimulated Mg2+ entry, decreasing it from 257 +/- 36 nM/s to 108 +/- 42 nM/s. This was associated with diminished PTH-stimulated cAMP formation, from 80 +/- 2.5 to 23 +/- 1 pmol/mg protein x 5 min. Other aminoglycosides such as tobramycin, streptomycin, and neomycin also inhibited PTH-stimulated Mg2+ entry and cAMP formation. As these antibiotics are positively charged, the data suggest that aminoglycosides act through an extracellular polyvalent cation-sensing receptor present in distal convoluted tubule cells. We infer from these studies that aminoglycosides inhibit hormone-stimulated Mg2+ absorption in the distal convoluted tubule that may contribute to the renal magnesium wasting frequently observed with the clinical use of these antibiotics.