PTH-related protein (PTHrP), originally identified through its causative role in human humoral hypercalcemia of malignancy, is now known to be a normal gene product expressed in a wide variety of neuroendocrine, epithelial, and mesoderm-derived tissues. PTHrP gene expression has recently been demonstrated in fetal and adult, benign and malignant, as well as human and rodent pancreatic islets. As in other tissues, the role of PTHrP expression in the normal islet is only beginning to be explored. In the current report, PTHrP expression in the normal rat pancreatic islet was confirmed using an affinity-purified antiserum directed against the N-terminal, biologically active region of the molecule. The effects of PTHrP on the islet were then explored using rat insulinoma (RIN m5F) cells. Synthetic PTHrP-(1-36) bound specifically, but with low affinity (Kd, approximately 10(-7) M) to RIN cell membranes. PTHrP-(1-36) failed to stimulate cAMP production in RIN cells, although RIN cells displayed a normal adenylate cyclase response to glucagon-like peptide-1-(7-36). In contrast, PTHrP-(1-36) induced a rapid dose-dependent rise in intracellular calcium in RIN cells in doses as low as 10(-12)-10(-10) M. These findings 1) confirm that PTHrP is expressed by islet cells, 2) demonstrate that the effects of PTHrP on the pancreatic islet are mediated, as in keratinocytes and lymphocytes, by a receptor related to but distinct from the PTH receptor, and 3) suggest that PTHrP functions in the islet as an autocrine or paracrine factor. Further studies are required to determine the physiological consequences of PTHrP expression by the pancreatic islet.