The histologic characteristics of the parathyroid glands in familial benign hypercalcemia (familial hypocalciuric hypercalcemia) are disputed, some finding parathyroid hyperplasia and others finding no abnormalities. To further investigate this issue, the histologic appearance of 82 parathyroid glands from 47 control patients (surgical and autopsy) were compared with those of 28 glands from 23 patients with familial hypocalciuric hypercalcemia who had undergone surgery for suspected primary hyperparathyroidism. Median and mean weights of 23 parathyroid glands from 12 patients with familial hypocalciuric hypercalcemia were 50 mg and 60 mg, respectively, with a range from 5 to 181 mg. Eighty-three percent of individual glands were within extreme normal limits for weight (less than 75 mg). Percent parenchymal area in familial hypocalciuric hypercalcemia was slightly but significantly less than control values (62 +/- 2 versus 71 +/- 2 percent, respectively; (p = 0.009). Conversely, percent fat was higher in familial hypocalciuric hypercalcemia than control values (30 +/- 3 versus 21 +/- 2 percent, respectively; p = 0.015). Stromal area was 8 +/- 1 percent in each group. Although 15 to 20 percent of parathyroid glands in familial hypocalciuric hypercalcemia exceeded normal size, most were indistinguishable from normal by size, weight, and microscopic appearance. The significantly reduced percent parenchyma in glands from patients with familial hypocalciuric hypercalcemia further suggests that the condition is not uniformly accompanied by typical parathyroid hyperplasia and should not be thought of as merely a variant of the latter.