Gallium nitrate is an antihypercalcemic agent with established actions on bone. The effects of Ga(NO3)3 on parathyroid hormone (PTH) release, cytoplasmic Ca2+ concentration ([Ca2+]i) and cAMP production of enzymatically dispersed parathyroid cells from bovine as well as normal and pathological human parathyroid glands have now been studied. Ga3+ at 200 microM inhibited PTH release whereas 600 microM NO3- had no effect. The inhibition was additive to that obtained by elevating extracellular Ca2+. Unlike Ca2+, Ga3+ failed to increase [Ca2+]i or reduce cAMP formation. The results indicate that Ga3+ inhibits PTH release by a mechanism other than activation of the cation receptor of the parathyroid cells. This mechanism may contribute also to inhibition by other cations.