The role of the calcium-sensing receptor in cancer

Cell Calcium. 2004 Mar;35(3):291-5. doi: 10.1016/j.ceca.2003.10.011.


The extracellular calcium-sensing receptor (CaR) is a versatile sensor of small, polycationic molecules ranging from Ca2+ and Mg2+ through polyarginine, spermine, and neomycin. The sensitivity of the CaR to changes in extracellular Ca2+ over the range of 0.05-5 mM positions the CaR as a key mediator of cellular responses to physiologically relevant changes in extracellular Ca2+. For many cell types, including intestinal epithelial cells, breast epithelial cells, keratinocytes, and ovarian surface epithelial cells, changes in extracellular Ca2+ concentration over this range can switch the cellular behaviour from proliferation to terminal differentiation or quiescence. As cancer is predominantly a disease of disordered balance between proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis, disruptions in the function of the CaR could contribute to the progression of neoplastic disease. Loss of the growth suppressing effects of elevated extracellular Ca2+ have been demonstrated in parathyroid hyperplasias and in colon carcinoma, and have been correlated with changes in the level of CaR expression. Activation of the CaR has also been linked to increased expression and secretion of PTHrP (parathyroid hormone-related peptide), a primary causal factor in hypercalcemia of malignancy and a contributor to metastatic processes involving bone. Although mutation of the CaR does not appear to be an early event in carcinogenesis, loss or upregulation of normal CaR function can contribute to several aspects of neoplastic progression, so that therapeutic strategies directed at the CaR could potentially serve a supportive function in cancer management.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Colonic Neoplasms / genetics
  • Colonic Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Colonic Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / genetics
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Parathyroid Hormone-Related Protein / metabolism
  • Receptors, Calcium-Sensing / genetics
  • Receptors, Calcium-Sensing / physiology*


  • Parathyroid Hormone-Related Protein
  • Receptors, Calcium-Sensing
  • Calcium