To investigate whether the derangements in calcium kinetics in patients with renal osteodystrophy are similar in the various histologic forms of this metabolic bone disease, 43 patients on chronic maintenance dialysis underwent calcium kinetic studies using the double isotope technique, iliac crest bone biopsies for mineralized bone histology and histomorphometry and determinations of serum indices of calcium and bone metabolism. Intestinal calcium absorption was not different among the three histologic groups. However, women exhibited lower calcium absorption in each histologic form (P < 0.01). Patients with predominant hyperparathyroid bone disease showed plasma calcium efflux, calcium accretion rate and calcium retention markedly above normal values. Patients with low turnover bone disease exhibited a normal or slightly decreased plasma calcium efflux and calcium accretion rate together with a disproportionately low calcium retention. Patients with mixed uremic osteodystrophy presented with a calcium kinetic profile intermediary to the two other forms. Good relationships existed between plasma calcium efflux, calcium accretion rate, calcium retention and histomorphometric parameters of bone turnover as well as serum levels of parathyroid hormone. However, no serum parameter could indicate with certainty the underlying bone disease. These findings demonstrate that adynamic bone disease does not merely represent an academic finding but is characterized by a very low bone capacity to buffer calcium and inability to handle an extra calcium load. This is particularly relevant for the daily care of end-stage renal failure patients presently receiving higher than ever amounts of vitamin D and calcium salts.