We previously demonstrated that extracellular calcium regulates vitamin D receptor (VDR) expression by parathyroid cells. Since the calcimimetic R-568 potentiates the effects of calcium on the calcium-sensing receptor, it was hypothesized that administration of R-568 may result in increased VDR expression in parathyroid tissue. In vitro studies of the effect of R-568 on VDR mRNA and protein were conducted in cultures of whole rat parathyroid glands and human hyperplastic parathyroid glands. In vivo studies in Wistar rats examined the effect of R-568 and calcitriol alone and in combination. Incubation of rat parathyroid glands in vitro with R-568 (0.001-1 microM) resulted in a dose-dependent decrease in parathyroid hormone (PTH) secretion and an increase in VDR expression (mean +/- SE). Incubation in 1 mM calcium + 0.001 microM R-568 elicited an increase in VDR mRNA (306 +/- 46%) similar to the maximum increase detected with 1.5 mM calcium (330 +/- 42%). In vivo, VDR mRNA was increased after administration of R-568 (168 +/- 9%, P < 0.001 vs. control) or calcitriol (198 +/- 16%, P < 0.001 vs. control). Treatment with R-568 also increased VDR protein in normal rat parathyroid glands and in human parathyroid glands with diffuse, but not nodular, hyperplasia. In conclusion, the present study shows that the calcimimetic R-568 exerts a stimulatory effect on VDR expression in the parathyroid glands of study models and provides additional evidence for the use of calcimimetics in the treatment of secondary hyperparathyroidism.