Short cycles of human (h) PTH-(1-34) may have an anabolic effect to increase bone mass in patients with osteoporosis. As PTH also stimulates bone resorption, it is theoretically possible to enhance the anabolic effects of PTH by using a sequential antiresorptive agent in the treatment cycle. To test this hypothesis, 30 women with osteoporosis, aged 67 +/- 8 yr, completed a 2-yr protocol that comprised 28-day courses of hPTH-(1-34) (800 U) given by daily sc injections; each course was repeated at 3-month intervals. By random allocation, patients either received sequential calcitonin (CT) immediately following the cycle of hPTH-(1-34) (75 U/day, sc; PTH + CT; n = 16) or placebo CT (PTH alone; n = 14) for 42 days. Baseline bone mineral density (BMD) at the lumbar spine site revealed t scores of -3.7 +/- 1.2 (+/-SD) for the PTH alone group and -3.0 +/- 1.4 for the PTH + CT groups, who had 2.0 +/- 2.3 and 1.8 +/- 2.4 vertebral fractures, respectively, at entry to the study. At the end of the 2 yr, the lumbar spine BMD increased from 0.720 +/- 0.130 to 0.793 +/- 0.177 g/cm2 (10.2%) in the PTH group and from 0.760 +/- 0.168 to 0.820 +/- 0.149 g/cm2 (7.9%) in the PTH + CT group. These changes were significant over time in both groups (P < 0.001). Although the final 2-yr lumbar spine BMD was not significantly different between the two treatment groups, those patients receiving sequential CT injections gained bone mass at a consistently slower rate. Changes in BMD at the femoral neck averaged +2.4% and -1.8% in the PTH and PTH + CT groups, respectively, neither of which was significant. In the group receiving only cyclical hPTH-(1-34), the observed 2-yr vertebral fracture incidence was 4.5 compared to 23.0/100 patient yr in the PTH + CT group (P = 0.078). During the first two cycles, changes in biochemical markers of bone formation (serum total alkaline phosphatase, bone-specific alkaline phosphatase, and osteocalcin) and bone resorption (fasting urinary hydroxyproline and N-telopeptide excretion) were significantly increased over pretreatment values after 28 days of hPTH-(1-34) injections (P < 0.05 to P < 0.01 for both groups). Even end of cycle values remained elevated over the study baseline across time (P < 0.01). There were no significant differences for any outcome parameter between the two treatment groups. We conclude that short cycles (28 days) of daily hPTH-(1-34) injections result in significant increases in lumbar spine BMD, without significant changes in cortical bone mass at the femoral neck. Very low incident vertebral fracture rates were documented over 2 yr. However, there is no evidence that sequential antiresorptive therapy with CT is of any benefit over that conferred by cyclical PTH alone.