Previous studies suggested that estrogen administration leads to an increase in circulating immunoreactive PTH (iPTH), thought to be secondary to a slight decrease in serum calcium resulting from inhibition of bone resorption. Using three different RIAs, we measured iPTH in serum from 10 postmenopausal women before and after 14 days of ethinyl estradiol administration. In 2 sensitive RIAs directed at the midregion of the PTH molecule, iPTH values fell or remained unchanged in each subject, with average decreases of 23% (P less than 0.001) and 28% (P less than 0.005) in the two assays. Total urinary cAMP, the tubular maximum for urinary phosphate excretion, and serum iPTH measured with the third RIA did not change after estrogen treatment. Fasting urinary calcium and hydroxyproline and serum calcium, phosphorus, albumin, alkaline phosphatase, and osteocalcin all decreased after treatment, and serum 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D increased in each subject. In a second cohort of 5 women given ethinyl estradiol for 8 weeks, similar changes were found at 2 weeks, but there was a trend toward increasing serum iPTH, increasing total urinary cAMP excretion, and decreasing the tubular maximum for urinary phosphate excretion by 8 weeks. The increase in serum 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D and the decrease in serum osteocalcin were again found after 2 weeks of estrogen and did not change further despite continued treatment. These results indicate multiple effects of a 2-week course of estrogen treatment on mineral metabolism in the absence of an increase in serum iPTH or several biological indices of PTH activity.