Ionic calcium has been known as an important intracellular second messenger for many decades. In addition, a whole series of experimental and clinical studies from the past fifteen years have provided evidence that extracellular ionic calcium itself is also a first messenger, since it is the ligand of a cell surface G-protein coupled receptor called calcium-sensing receptor. This review summarizes the current knowledge on the role of calcium-sensing receptor in the maintenance of calcium homeostasis, its functions in various tissues and some of the most important disorders characterized by defective calcium sensing. The inherited disorders of the calcium-sensing receptors may be classified as the results of loss-of-function and gain-of-function mutations of the calcium-sensing receptor gene. Loss-of-function heterozygous mutations lead to familial hypocalciuric hypercalcemia while homozygous mutations result in the frequently life-threatening disorder called neonatal severe hyperparathyroidism. Gain-of-function mutations of this receptor's gene cause the disorder called autosomal dominant hypocalcemia. The authors briefly highlight the clinical features, laboratory characteristics and therapeutic implications of these disorders. Also, they discuss briefly the molecular mechanisms resulting defective calcium-sensing in of patients with primary and secondary hyperparathyroidism, and summarize the results of some recent investigations on the functional consequences of genetic variants of the calcium-sensing receptor gene.
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