In vertebrates, parathyroid hormone (PTH) is important for skeletogenesis and Ca(2+) homeostasis. However, little is known about the molecular mechanisms by which PTH regulates skeleton formation and Ca(2+) balance during early development. Using larval zebrafish as an in vivo model system, we determined that PTH1 regulates the differentiation of epithelial cells and the development of craniofacial cartilage. We demonstrated that translational gene knockdown of PTH1 decreased Ca(2+) uptake at 4 days after fertilization. We also observed that PTH1-deficient fish exhibited reduced numbers of epithelial Ca(2+) channel (ecac)-expressing cells, Na(+)/K(+)-ATPase-rich cells, and H(+)-ATPase-rich cells. Additionally, the density of epidermal stem cells was decreased substantially in the fish experiencing PTH1 knockdown. Knockdown of PTH1 caused a shortening of the jaw and impeded the development of branchial arches. Results from in situ hybridization suggested that the expression of collagen 2a1a (marker for proliferating chondrocytes) was substantially reduced in the cartilage that forms the jaw and branchial aches. Disorganization of chondrocytes in craniofacial cartilage also was observed in PTH1-deficient fish. The results of real-time PCR demonstrated that PTH1 morphants failed to express the transcription factor glial cell missing 2 (gcm2). Coinjection of PTH1 morpholino with gcm2 capped RNA rescued the phenotypes observed in the PTH1 morphants, suggesting that the defects in PTH1-deficient fish were caused, at least in part, by the suppression of gcm2. Taken together, the results of the present study reveal critical roles for PTH1 in promoting the differentiation of epidermal stem cells into mature ionocytes and cartilage formation during development.