UMR106-06 cells predominantly express the C1a isoform of the rat calcitonin (CT) receptor (CTR). We have compared the homologous regulation of the C1a CTR endogenously expressed in UMR106-06 cells with the cloned C1a CTR in transfected HEK 293 cells, in which expression is driven by a heterologous promoter. It was found that treatment of both cell lines with either salmon CT or human CT reduced the density of cell surface CTR in a dose- and time- dependent manner. However, the magnitude of the response was greater in UMR106-06 cells, and salmon CT was more potent than human CT in both cell lines. Recovery from down-regulation was rapid in transfected cells (<2 h), but was comparatively delayed in UMR106-06 cells, where less than 70% of receptor-binding capacity had returned by 24 h. In both cell lines, treatment with either agonist increased the basal activity of CT-sensitive adenylate cyclase and caused a time-dependent reduction in the responsiveness of adenylate cyclase to a second challenge with CT. Reduced responsiveness occurred under conditions of minimal loss of CTR from the cell surface, consistent with an uncoupling of the receptor from the signal transduction apparatus. Recovery of CT-sensitive adenylate cyclase was complete in transfected cells by 24 h, but was delayed in UMR106-06 cells, paralleling the slow recovery of receptor binding. CT-induced down-regulation of the CTR was not mimicked by receptor-independent activation of protein kinase A or protein kinase C. However, treatment of cells for 24 h, but not for 4 h, with phorbol ester caused a partial loss of CTR binding in UMR106-06 cells and resulted in an approximately 200% increase in CTR binding in transfected HEK 293 cells. CTR messenger RNA levels, as assessed by reverse transcription- PCR, were not changed by any of the above treatments. These results suggest that CT-induced receptor down-regulation and modulation of the ability of CT to activate adenylate cyclase are inherent properties of the receptor, as they can be recapitulated in an otherwise CTR-naive cell line, in which receptor expression is driven by a heterologous gene promoter. Moreover, and in contrast with CTR regulation in osteoclasts, activation of protein kinase A is insufficient for ligand-induced regulation of the CTR in these nonosteoclastic cell lines, and receptor regulation does not appear to involve altered messenger RNA levels.