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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

what is human anatomy?
rascal Reply
lts stady structured human body's
Sa
what is the study of how the body functions?
Bright
what is abdomipelvic cavity?
david Reply
where can we find the short bones
Chidi Reply
Carpal bones are examples of short bones
Dara
what is blood supply
Chidi
on upper limb and lower limb
Juma
carpal bones
Priya
during pregnancy which would more increase size the mothers abdominal or pelvic cavity?
Nurmalyn Reply
pelvic cavity I think
Priya
What is anatomical position
Nwoye
define the main directional terms of the body
cris Reply
during physical exercise respiratory rate increace two student are discussing the mechanisms involved. student A claim they are positive feedback and student B claim negative feedback do you agree with student A or B and why
cris
what is the physiology of circulation
Chidi
please I mean the physiology of criculation
Chidi
blood flow refers to the movement of blood through the vessels from arteries to the capillaries and then to the veins
Laraib
during pregnancy, which would more size the mother's abdominal or pelvic cavity? explain
cris Reply
list and define the three plane of devision of the body
cris
complete the following statements using correct directional terms for human being. 1. the navel is________to the nose 2. the heart is______to the breastbone(sternum) 3 the ankle is______to the knee 4 the ear is______to the eyes.
cris
1. superior 2. posterior 3. superior 4. lateral
Mnm
anterior fuerior
Chidi
name the system of the body and its function
cris Reply
11 system are human body 1.integumentary system 2. skeletal system 3. muscular system 4. nervous system 5. endocrine system 6. cardiovascular system 7. lymphatic system 8. respiratory system 9. digestive system 10. urinary system 11. reproductive system male and female.
Vineeta
during pregnancy, which would more size the mother's abdominal or pelvic cavity? explain
cris
how the body maintain hormeostasis in terms of bloodglucose level
cris Reply
It releases hormones from the pancreas insulin and glucagon
TONY
why human blood pressure high
amin Reply
fear, anxiety, sickness
Inemesit
why in mothers womb the foetus head is in anus direction?
Kick
As it seems the position downside n if we did such position thn soon we got vomiting then how foetus stay in downward position long time?
Kick
What is red blood cell
HANNAH Reply
A type of blood cell that is made in the bone marrow and found in the blood. Red blood cells contain a protein called hemoglobin, which carries oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body. Checking the number of red blood cells in the blood is usually part of a complete blood cell (CBC) test. It
Noor
red blood cell are the most numerous blood cells.they comprise about 99% of all blood cells red blood cells are non nucleated it has red colour due to present to hemoglobin.
Vineeta
Thanks for the answers
HANNAH
how will you promote quality of life in ptb patient using the 14 basic needs and 21 nursing problems?
rOx Reply
coronary circulation ?
Juri Reply
Coronary circulation is the circulation of blood in the blood vessels that supply the heart muscle (myocardium). Coronary arteries supply oxygenated blood to the heart muscle, and cardiac veins drain away the blood once it has been deoxygenated. Because the rest of the body.
Riyaz
coronary circulation ,is flow of blood that supplies the heart tissue itself is the coronary circulation. the functional blood supply of the heart,is the shortest circulation in tha body.
Vineeta
what about the easy way to understand action potential
Bright
event of cardiac cycle
Juri Reply
hii
Chandan
hi 😷be safe your self
John
atrialsystole, ventricular systole,complete cardiac diastole
Priya
intrisic process which done by automic nerve
Juma
whatisanatom
kaso Reply
anatomy is the scientific way of studying the body structure.
cynthia
the branch of science concerned with the bodily structure of humans, animals, and other living organisms, especially as revealed by dissection and the separation of parts.
Noor
what is means by LAPE and HAPE
Noor
what is respiratory rate
Chidi
guys i've question what occur when homeostasis balance mechanisms lost
cris Reply

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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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