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After studying this chapter, you should be able to:


  • Understand the importance of maintaining homeostasis of body calcium and phosphate concentrations, and how this is accomplished.
  • Describe the body pools of calcium, their rates of turnover, and the organs that play central roles in regulating movement of calcium between stores.
  • Delineate the mechanisms of calcium and phosphate absorption and excretion.
  • Identify the major hormones and other factors that regulate calcium and phosphate homeostasis and their sites of synthesis as well as targets of their action.
  • Define the basic anatomy of bone.
  • Delineate cells and their functions in bone formation and resorption.


Calcium is an essential intracellular signaling molecule and also plays a variety of extracellular functions, thus the control of body calcium concentrations is vitally important. The components of the system that maintains calcium homeostasis include cell types that sense changes in extracellular calcium and release calcium-regulating hormones, and the targets of these hormones, including the kidneys, bones, and intestine, that respond with changes in calcium mobilization, excretion, or uptake. Three hormones are primarily concerned with the regulation of calcium homeostasis. Parathyroid hormone (PTH) is secreted by the parathyroid glands. Its main action is to mobilize calcium from bone and increase urinary phosphate excretion. 1,25-Dihydroxycholecalciferol is a steroid hormone formed from vitamin D by successive hydroxylations in the liver and kidneys. Its primary action is to increase calcium absorption from the intestine. Calcitonin, a calcium-lowering hormone that in mammals is secreted primarily by cells in the thyroid gland, inhibits bone resorption. Although the role of calcitonin seems to be relatively minor, all three hormones probably operate in concert to maintain the constancy of the calcium level in the body fluids. Phosphate homeostasis is likewise critical to normal body function, particularly given its inclusion in adenosine triphosphate (ATP), its role as a biological buffer, and its role as a modifier of proteins, thereby altering their functions. Many of the systems that regulate calcium homeostasis also contribute to that of phosphate, albeit sometimes in a reciprocal fashion, and thus will also be discussed in this chapter.




The body of a young adult human contains about 1100 g (27.5 moles) of calcium. Ninety-nine per cent of the calcium is in the skeleton. Plasma calcium, normally at a concentration of around 10 mg/dL (5 mEq/L, 2.5 mmol/L), is partly bound to protein and partly diffusible (Table 21–1). The distribution of calcium inside cells and the role of Ca2+ as a second messenger molecule is discussed in Chapter 2.

Table Graphic Jump Location
Table 21–1 Distribution (mg/dL) of Calcium in Normal Human Plasma.

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