Calcitonin is a 32-amino acid linear polypeptide hormone that is produced in humans primarily by the parafollicular (also known as C-cells) of the thyroid, and in many other animals in the ultimobranchial body. It acts to reduce blood calcium (Ca2+), opposing the effects of parathyroid hormone (PTH). It has been found in fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Its importance in humans has not been as well established as its importance in other animals.
To be specific, calcitonin affects blood Ca2+ levels in three ways:
The following information is from the UK Electronic Medicines Compendium
Animal studies have shown that calcitonin is primarily metabolised via proteolysis in the kidney following parenteral administration. The metabolites lack the specific biological activity of calcitonin. Bioavailability following subcutaneous and intramuscular injection in humans is high and similar for the two routes of administration (71% and 66%, respectively).
Calcitonin has short absorption and elimination half-lives of 10-15 minutes and 50-80 minutes, respectively. Salmon calcitonin is primarily and almost exclusively degraded in the kidneys, forming pharmacologically-inactive fragments of the molecule. Therefore, the metabolic clearance is much lower in patients with end-stage renal failure than in healthy subjects. However, the clinical relevance of this finding is not known. Plasma protein binding is 30% to 40%.
An increased incidence of pituitary adenomas has been reported in rats given synthetic salmon calcitonin for 1 year. This is considered a species-specific effect and of no clinical relevance. Salmon calcitonin does not cross the placental barrier.
In lactating animals given calcitonin, suppression of milk production has been observed. Calcitonin is secreted into the milk.
Oral calcitonin may have a chondroprotective role in osteoarthritis (OA), according to data in rats presented in December, 2005, at the 10th World Congress of the Osteoarthritis Research Society International (OARSI) in Boston, Massachusetts. Although calcitonin is an established antiresorptive agent, its disease-modifying effects on chondrocytes and cartilage metabolisms have not been well established until now.
This new study, however, may help to explain how calcitonin affects osteoarthritis. “Calcitonin acts both directly on osteoclasts, resulting in inhibition of bone resorption and following attenuation of subchondral bone turnover, and directly on chondrocytes, attenuating cartilage degradation and stimulating cartilage formation,” says researcher Morten Karsdal, MSC, PhD, of the department of pharmacology at Nordic Bioscience in Herlev, Denmark. “Therefore, calcitonin may be a future efficacious drug for OA.”
It may be used diagnostically as a tumor marker for a form of thyroid cancer (medullary thyroid adenocarcinoma), in which high calcitonin levels may be present and elevated levels after surgery may indicate recurrence. It may even be used on biopsy samples from suspicious lesions (e.g. swollen lymph nodes) to establish whether they are metastasis of the original cancer.