Parathyroid cells express a cell surface receptor, coupled to the mobilization of intracellular Ca2+, that is activated by increases in the concentration of extracellular Ca2+ and by a variety of other cations. This "Ca2+ receptor" (CaR) serves as the primary physiological regulator of parathyroid hormone secretion. Alterations in the CaR have been proposed to underlie the increases in Ca2+ set-point seen in primary hyperparathyroidism due to parathyroid adenoma. We have isolated human CaR cDNAs from an adenomatous parathyroid gland. The cloned receptor, expressed in Xenopus oocytes, responds to extracellular application of physiologically relevant concentrations of Ca2+ and other CaR agonists. The rank order of potency of CaR agonists displayed by the native receptor (Gd3+ > neomycin B > Ca2+ > Mg2+) is maintained by the expressed receptor. The nucleotide sequence of the human CaR cDNA predicts a protein of 1078 amino acids with high sequence similarity to a bovine CaR, and displays seven putative membrane-spanning regions common to G protein-coupled receptors. The deduced protein sequence shows potential sites for N-linked glycosylation and phosphorylation by protein kinase C and has a low level of sequence similarity to the metabotropic glutamate receptors. Comparison of the cDNA sequence to that of the normal human CaR gene showed no alteration in the coding region sequence of the CaR in this particular instance of parathyroid adenoma. Human cDNA clones with differing 5'-untranslated regions were isolated, suggesting alternative splicing of the parathyroid CaR mRNA. A rare variant cDNA clone representing a 10 amino acid insertion into the extracellular domain was also isolated. Northern blot analysis of normal and adenomatous parathyroid gland mRNA identified a predominant transcript of approximately 5.4 kilobases, and less abundant transcripts of approximately 10, 4.8 and 4.2 kilobases in RNA from the adenoma. While there is no evidence for alteration of the primary amino acid sequence of the CaR in this adenoma, modulation of CaR biosynthesis through alternative RNA processing may play a role in set-point alterations.