The calcium-sensing receptor: a window into the physiology and pathophysiology of mineral ion metabolism

Endocr Rev. 1996 Aug;17(4):289-307. doi: 10.1210/edrv-17-4-289.


The recent cloning of a [Ca2+]o-sensing receptor from several different tissues in several species directly demonstrates that a variety of cells can directly recognize and respond to small changes in their ambient level of [Ca2+]o through a G protein-coupled, cell surface receptor. This finding directly documents that [Ca2+]o can act as an extracellular, first messenger in addition to subserving its better known role as an intracellular second messenger. Several of the tissues expressing the CaR are important elements in the calcium homeostatic system that have long been known to be capable of sensing [Ca2+]o, such as parathyroid and thyroidal C cells. The presence of the receptor in the kidney, however, provides strong evidence that several of the long-recognized but poorly understood direct actions of [Ca2+]o on renal function could be mediated by the CaR. These actions include the up-regulation of urinary calcium and magnesium excretion in the setting of hypercalcemia, which complements the indirect inhibition of renal tubular reabsorption of calcium that results from high [Ca2+]o-mediated inhibition for PTH secretion. The impaired renal concentrating capacity in hypercalcemia is likely a manifestation of a homeostatically important interaction between the regulation of renal calcium and water handling that reduces the risk of pathological deposition of calcium in the kidney when there is a need to dispose of excess, calcium in the urine. In this regard, the availability of human syndromes of [Ca2+]o "resistance" or "overresponsiveness" due to loss-of-function or gain-of-function mutations in the CaR, respectively, have provided useful experiments in nature that have clarified the importance of the receptor in both abnormal and normal physiology. Much remains to be learned, however, about the role of the CaR in locations, such as the brain, where it likely responds to local rather than systemic levels of [Ca2+]o. In such sites, it may represent an important modulator of neuronal function, responding to [Ca2+]o as a neuromodulator or even neurotransmitter. The development of therapeutics that either activate or inhibit the function of the CaR may be useful for treating a variety of conditions in which the receptor is either under- or overactive. Finally, it would not be surprising to discover additional receptors for [Ca2+]o or for other ions (the CaR may, in fact, be an important [Mg2+]o-sensor) that could function abnormally in certain disease states and be amenable to pharmacological manipulation with ion receptor-based therapeutics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism*
  • Calcium-Binding Proteins / chemistry
  • Calcium-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • Calcium-Binding Proteins / physiology*
  • Cells / metabolism
  • Drug Resistance
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Mutation
  • Syndrome


  • Calcium-Binding Proteins
  • Calcium