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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Describe the location and structure of the parathyroid glands
  • Describe the hormonal control of blood calcium levels
  • Discuss the physiological response of parathyroid dysfunction

The parathyroid glands    are tiny, round structures usually found embedded in the posterior surface of the thyroid gland ( [link] ). A thick connective tissue capsule separates the glands from the thyroid tissue. Most people have four parathyroid glands, but occasionally there are more in tissues of the neck or chest. The function of one type of parathyroid cells, the oxyphil cells, is not clear. The primary functional cells of the parathyroid glands are the chief cells. These epithelial cells produce and secrete the parathyroid hormone (PTH)    , the major hormone involved in the regulation of blood calcium levels.

Parathyroid glands

Part A of this diagram shows the four, small, disc-shaped parathyroid glands embedded in the posterior surface of the thyroid gland. Part B shows a micrograph of parathyroid tissue. The tissue is largely composed of cube-shaped chief cells encircling a central blood vessel. A few larger and darker-staining oxyphil cells are embedded within the many chief cells.
The small parathyroid glands are embedded in the posterior surface of the thyroid gland. LM × 760. (Micrograph provided by the Regents of University of Michigan Medical School © 2012)

View the University of Michigan WebScope at (External Link) to explore the tissue sample in greater detail.

The parathyroid glands produce and secrete PTH, a peptide hormone, in response to low blood calcium levels ( [link] ). PTH secretion causes the release of calcium from the bones by stimulating osteoclasts, which secrete enzymes that degrade bone and release calcium into the interstitial fluid. PTH also inhibits osteoblasts, the cells involved in bone deposition, thereby sparing blood calcium. PTH causes increased reabsorption of calcium (and magnesium) in the kidney tubules from the urine filtrate. In addition, PTH initiates the production of the steroid hormone calcitriol (also known as 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D), which is the active form of vitamin D 3 , in the kidneys. Calcitriol then stimulates increased absorption of dietary calcium by the intestines. A negative feedback loop regulates the levels of PTH, with rising blood calcium levels inhibiting further release of PTH.

Parathyroid hormone in maintaining blood calcium homeostasis

This diagram shows the role of parathyroid hormone in maintaining blood calcium homeostasis. When blood calcium concentration drops, chief cells of the parathyroid gland release parathyroid hormone (PTH). PTH affects bone, the kidneys and the intestines. In regards to bone, PTH inhibits osteoblasts and stimulates osteoclasts. This results in compact bone being broken down, as illustrated by an osteoclast burrowing into the surface of a bone. The break down releases calcium ions into a nearby blood vessel. The osteoblasts are inactive in this stage. In regards to the kidneys, PTH stimulates kidney tubule cells to recover waste calcium from the urine. PTH also stimulates kidney tubule cells to release calcitrol. This is illustrated with a cross section of a kidney tubule, showing the cells of the tubule wall. Urine is running to the left of the tubule wall cells while an artery is to the right. The right edge of the tubule wall cells and the left edge of the artery are separated by a small region of interstitial space. The cells are removing calcium from the urine and pumping it into the interstitial fluid, after which the calcium enters the artery. The cells are also pumping calcitrol into the blood vessel. In regards to the intestine, PTH stimulates the intestines to absorb calcium from digesting food. A cross section of an intestinal cell is shown, which is cube-shaped but with finger-like projections on the intestinal lumen side (top). Beneath the intestinal cell is an artery. Calcitrol is leaving the artery and entering the intestinal cell, stimulating it to absorb calcium from food in the intestinal lumen. The effects of PTH on bone, the kidneys and the intestines all cause blood calcium levels to increase. High calcium concentrations in the blood stimulate the parafollicular cells in the thyroid to release calcitonin. Calcitonin reverses the effects of PTH by stimulating osteoblasts and inhibiting osteoclasts in bone tissue. This is illustrated by calcium ions leaving a blood vessel and traveling to osteoblasts on a section of compact bone. The osteoblasts are thickening the compact bone layer while, in this stage, the osteoclasts are inactive.
Parathyroid hormone increases blood calcium levels when they drop too low. Conversely, calcitonin, which is released from the thyroid gland, decreases blood calcium levels when they become too high. These two mechanisms constantly maintain blood calcium concentration at homeostasis.

Abnormally high activity of the parathyroid gland can cause hyperparathyroidism    , a disorder caused by an overproduction of PTH that results in excessive calcium reabsorption from bone. Hyperparathyroidism can significantly decrease bone density, leading to spontaneous fractures or deformities. As blood calcium levels rise, cell membrane permeability to sodium is decreased, and the responsiveness of the nervous system is reduced. At the same time, calcium deposits may collect in the body’s tissues and organs, impairing their functioning.

In contrast, abnormally low blood calcium levels may be caused by parathyroid hormone deficiency, called hypoparathyroidism    , which may develop following injury or surgery involving the thyroid gland. Low blood calcium increases membrane permeability to sodium, resulting in muscle twitching, cramping, spasms, or convulsions. Severe deficits can paralyze muscles, including those involved in breathing, and can be fatal.

When blood calcium levels are high, calcitonin is produced and secreted by the parafollicular cells of the thyroid gland. As discussed earlier, calcitonin inhibits the activity of osteoclasts, reduces the absorption of dietary calcium in the intestine, and signals the kidneys to reabsorb less calcium, resulting in larger amounts of calcium excreted in the urine.

Chapter review

Calcium is required for a variety of important physiologic processes, including neuromuscular functioning; thus, blood calcium levels are closely regulated. The parathyroid glands are small structures located on the posterior thyroid gland that produce parathyroid hormone (PTH), which regulates blood calcium levels. Low blood calcium levels cause the production and secretion of PTH. In contrast, elevated blood calcium levels inhibit secretion of PTH and trigger secretion of the thyroid hormone calcitonin. Underproduction of PTH can result in hypoparathyroidism. In contrast, overproduction of PTH can result in hyperparathyroidism.

Questions & Answers

Card 5 / 12: For whom would an appreciation of the structural characteristics of the human heart come more easily: an alien who lands on Earth, abducts a human, and dissects his heart, or an anatomy and physiology student performing a dissection of the heart on her very first day of class? Why?
Gelowe Reply
what are regular shaped cells with granules in the cytoplasam
Kabita Reply
PMNL
Dinu
I need sylubuss of clinical officers book
Omary Reply
cholesterol normal value is
BISWANATH Reply
less than 200mg/dl
Ashis
100 to159mg/dL
Dinu
Early this wk. I had some "A & P" questions & answers unfortunately didn't save them, Is there any way I can have them back ,so as 2 save them?. Thnx.
Kechi
what are the functions of the female reproductive system
Lister Reply
it produces the female egg necessary for reproduction, called the Ova or Oocytes. The system is designed to transport the Ova to the site of fertilization.
Kechi
Female reproductive system was mainly functioned to produce ova(ovum) (female eggs) Into which will be fertilized by male gamete to produce zygote
Omary
absolutely right
nimco
wa qalad nimco rage iska hubi
Khaliil
waxwalba ka fikirbay ubaahantahay
Ahmed
ha wayo jawabtoda wa qabyo nimco wey ku raacdat
Khaliil
ha wayo jawabtoda wa qabyo nimco wey ku raacday
Khaliil
wxayaabaha qaarkood waaa in aan u feejignaano
Ahmed
asc if I try female reproductive system has two function the first is to produce egg cell and the second is to protact and nourish the offspring until birth
Muriidi
what is stercobilinogen
Hancerich Reply
fecal urobilinogen. Created by bacteria in the gut. a chemical that gives feces brown color.
Blayne
next question pls.
Kechi
The rate of diffusion increases if the
stella
What's the answer?
Kechi
it's a breaking down of haemoglobin and it's a chemical made by bacteria
Dev
Thnx Dev Raj.
Kechi
yup so any more
Dev
yes I sure do need more "Questions" & "Answers". I'm learning whole lot. Thnx.
Kechi
what is the greatest muscle of the body
Lungu Reply
gluteus maximus
ABDULLAH
pls!!! more "A&P" questions & answers. Thnx.
Kechi
Gluteus maximus
THE
Describe anatomy of cardiovascular system?
cardiovascular system is a group of organs coming together to perform the circulation of blood. The organs invoked are the heart and the blood vessels with blood being the tissue. The heart is a pump and it pumps oxygenated blood through the systemic circuit and deoxygenated blood through the pulmon
bernard
pulmonary circuit.
bernard
more A&P questions pls. Thnx.
Kechi
If an ANOVA yields a significant F value, you could rely on ________ to test significant differences between group means.
Dane Reply
what's ANOVA
Cassandra
analysis of variance
Blayne
plz what you mean with "ANOVA" first
Fatima
anova means analysis of variance, a statistical method in which the variation in a set of observations is divided into distinct components.
Blayne
M value ot test
ABDULLAH
What does it mean by M value ot test?
Orpha
formation of red blood cells
Biketi Reply
explain why... lower back pain in ovarian cancer
Srijoni Reply
we says that protoplasm is the living part of us How?
Muzamil Reply
is the leaving part of our cellular structure.
Eric
it is the leaving part of our blood cellular structure also
ABDULLAH
what is receptor?
Preity Reply
an organ or cell able to respond to light, heat, or other external stimulus and transmit a signal to a sensory nerve.
Jessi
Has anyone taken the first exam?
Sandra
yes
yahye
yes
Allan
hey what is the process after your food is swallowed? how long does it take to get to the stomache until it is released as waste?
Fednise Reply
that is such a broad question. as you begin to swallow its various doses down the alimentary canal that brings the food into your stomach.then depending on whether it's a protein carbohydrate fat that dictates what function takes place in your stomach. these are all steps of digestion.
Joseph
typo sorry it's peristalsis , wave-like projections that push food down your alimentary canal etc. digestion starts in your mouth ends in your large intestines (colon anus)
Joseph
some of the many processes of digestion include hydrolysis dehydration synthesis denaturation of proteins etc. you have to be more specific.
Joseph
there's many different contributing factors the how long it takes food to convert into waste. remember fats, triglycerides proteins and carbohydrates all breakdown two different monomers and structures. you should be looking up metabolic processes.
Joseph
depending how much fiber you have in your diet dictates how much water is brought to your intestines that has to do with excretion whether fiber is insoluble or soluble. this is an anatomy and physiology app. to simply say the stomach will empty its contents in 2 to 3 hours would do you a disservice
Joseph
can the study of anatomy relate to medical technologies
Lean Reply
yes
Khh
absolutely
Jessi
yes...
Sherif
how can I understand micro biology and anatomy better.
Cassandra
yes
Kevin
someone to help me understand glycogeneogenesis
abel
what are the major branches of the aorta?
Kevin
look youtube video
Jessi

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Source:  OpenStax, Anatomy & Physiology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 04, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11496/1.8
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