Juvenile gilthead sea bream (Sparus auratus L.; 10-40 g body mass) were acclimatized in the laboratory to full strength (34 per thousand) or dilute (2.5 per thousand) seawater and fed normal, calcium-sufficient or calcium-deficient diet for nine weeks. Mean growth rate, whole-body calcium and phosphorus content and accumulation rates were determined, as well as plasma levels of ionic and total calcium, cortisol and parathyroid hormone related protein (PTHrP; a hypercalcemic hormone in fish). When confronted with limited calcium access (low salinity and calcium-deficient diet), sea bream show growth arrest. Both plasma cortisol and PTHrP increase when calcium is limited in water or diet, and a positive relationship was found between plasma PTHrP and plasma ionic calcium (R(2)=0.29, N=18, P<0.05). Furthermore, a strong correlation was found between net calcium and phosphorus accumulation (R(2)=0.92, N=16, P<0.01) and between body mass and whole-body calcium (R(2)=0.84, N=25, P<0.01) and phosphorus (R(2)=0.88, N=24, P<0.01) content. Phosphorus accumulation is strongly calcium dependent, as phosphorus accumulation decreases in parallel to calcium accumulation when the diet is calcium deficient but phosphorus sufficient. We conclude that PTHrP and cortisol are involved in the regulation of the hydromineral balance of these fish, with growth-related calcium accumulation as an important target.