Regulation of Body Processes

Hormonal Control of Blood Calcium Levels

Regulation of blood calcium concentrations is important for generation of muscle contractions and nerve impulses, which are electrically stimulated. If calcium levels get too high, membrane permeability to sodium decreases and membranes become less responsive. If calcium levels get too low, membrane permeability to sodium increases and convulsions or muscle spasms can result.

Blood calcium levels are regulated by parathyroid hormone (PTH), which is produced by the parathyroid glands, as illustrated in Figure. PTH is released in response to low blood Ca2+ levels. PTH increases Ca2+ levels by targeting the skeleton, the kidneys, and the intestine. In the skeleton, PTH stimulates osteoclasts, which causes bone to be reabsorbed, releasing Ca2+ from bone into the blood. PTH also inhibits osteoblasts, reducing Ca2+ deposition in bone. In the intestines, PTH increases dietary Ca2+ absorption, and in the kidneys, PTH stimulates reabsorption of the CA2+. While PTH acts directly on the kidneys to increase Ca2+ reabsorption, its effects on the intestine are indirect. PTH triggers the formation of calcitriol, an active form of vitamin D, which acts on the intestines to increase absorption of dietary calcium. PTH release is inhibited by rising blood calcium levels.

The parathyroid glands, which are located in the neck, release parathyroid hormone, or PTH. PTH causes the release of calcium from bone and triggers the reabsorption of calcium from the urine in the kidneys. PTH also triggers the formation of calcitriol from vitamin D. Calcitriol causes the intestines to absorb more calcium. The result is increased calcium in the blood.
Parathyroid hormone (PTH) is released in response to low blood calcium levels. It increases blood calcium levels by targeting the skeleton, the kidneys, and the intestine. (credit: modification of work by Mikael Häggström)

Hyperparathyroidism results from an overproduction of parathyroid hormone. This results in excessive calcium being removed from bones and introduced into blood circulation, producing structural weakness of the bones, which can lead to deformation and fractures, plus nervous system impairment due to high blood calcium levels. Hypoparathyroidism, the underproduction of PTH, results in extremely low levels of blood calcium, which causes impaired muscle function and may result in tetany (severe sustained muscle contraction).

The hormone calcitonin, which is produced by the parafollicular or C cells of the thyroid, has the opposite effect on blood calcium levels as does PTH. Calcitonin decreases blood calcium levels by inhibiting osteoclasts, stimulating osteoblasts, and stimulating calcium excretion by the kidneys. This results in calcium being added to the bones to promote structural integrity. Calcitonin is most important in children (when it stimulates bone growth), during pregnancy (when it reduces maternal bone loss), and during prolonged starvation (because it reduces bone mass loss). In healthy nonpregnant, unstarved adults, the role of calcitonin is unclear.