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Curr Pharm Biotechnol. 2009 Apr;10(3):289-301.

The role of the calcium-sensing receptor in bone biology and pathophysiology.

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Skeletal Clinical Studies Unit, Craniofacial and Skeletal Diseases Branch, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health, 30 Convent Drive, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


Bone cells, particularly osteoblasts and osteoclasts, exhibit functional responses to calcium (Ca(2+)). The identification of the calcium-sensing receptor (CaR) in parathyroid glands as the master regulator of parathyroid hormone (PTH) secretion proved that cells could specifically respond to changes in divalent cation concentration. Yet, after many years of study, it remains unclear whether this receptor, which has also been identified in bone, has functional import there. Various knockout and transgenic mouse models have been developed, but conclusions about skeletal phenotypes remain elusive. Complex endocrine feedback loops involving calcium, phosphorus, vitamin D, and PTH confound efforts to isolate the effects of a single mineral, hormone, or receptor and most models fail to account for other local factors such as parathyroid hormone related protein (PTHrP). We review the relevant mouse models and discuss the importance of CaR in chondrogenesis and osteogenesis. We present the evidence for a non-redundant role for CaR in skeletal mineralization, including our experience in patients with activating CaR mutations. Additionally, we review emerging research on the importance of the CaR to the regulation of serum calcium homeostasis independent of PTH, the role of the CaR in the hematopoietic stem cell niche with implications for bone marrow transplant, and early evidence that implies a role for the CaR as a factor in skeletal metastasis from breast and prostate cancer. We conclude with a discussion of drugs that target the CaR directly either as agonists (calcimimetics) or antagonists (calcilytics), and the consequences for bone physiology and pathology.

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