Calcitonin, an enigmatic hormone: does it have a function?

J Musculoskelet Neuronal Interact. 2001 Jun;1(4):299-305.


This editorial presents our view of the status of thyroidal calcitonin (TCT) in mammalian physiology. The discovery of calcitonin (CT) enabled the development of a valuable therapeutic agent but the early experiments most likely misled us with regard to its physiological significance. These early purported roles for TCT, first as an agent important in blood calcium regulation and later as an agent to prevent hypercalcemia, are no longer considered as physiological functions. While large supraphysiological doses of CT have an effect on the morphology and function of osteoclasts, it is unlikely that these effects of CT are important in the normal physiology of osteoclasts or bone remodeling. It is surprising that 38 years after the discovery of TCT there is no consensus as to its role in normal mammalian physiology. This editorial concerns three possibilities with respect to TCT: 1) the hormone is vestigial; 2) the hormone plays a role in water metabolism, ionic concentrations, and/or acid-base balance, actions that may not involve calcium metabolism at all; and 3) TCT acts to store phosphate postprandially on bone surfaces as a labile calcium-phosphate colloid, an action that may provide calcium needed for use in non-feeding periods or to reduce postprandial loss of phosphate when dietary phosphate is limited. Also discussed are recent publications indicating that CT synthesized in non-thyroidal tissues (NTCT) may have paracrine actions.