Ca2+ binds to a parathyroid cell Ca2+ receptor, which is G protein-coupled and activates inositol triphosphate production. Mutations in the Ca(2+)-sensing receptor gene cause familial hypocalciuric hypercalcemia and neonatal severe hyperparathyroidism. Chronic hypocalcemia increases parathyroid hormone messenger RNA levels and parathyroid cell hyperplasia. Parathyroid cells in vitro are heterologous in their response to Ca2+. The concept of a higher Ca2+ set-point in secondary hyperparathyroidism is controversial. Calcitriol is more effective than the less hypercalcemia analogues in decreasing parathyroid hormone messenger RNA and immunoreactive parathyroid hormone levels, and its kinetics are well established. Phosphate and estrogens regulate the parathyroid independently of 1,25 dihydroxyvitamin D3 and Ca2+. The physiology of the effects of endothelin and insulin-like growth factors on the parathyroid need to be established. Important advances are being made in understanding the regulation of parathyroid hormone synthesis and secretion, which are relevant to both normal physiology and the pathogenesis and treatment of diseases such as the secondary hyperparathyroidism of renal failure and osteoporosis.