The designing of parathyroid hormone (PTH)-renal dose-response studies in human beings is complicated by the possibility of rapid homologous receptor down-regulation, a phenomenon that is clearly shown to occur in vitro. Large amounts of PTH given to human subjects as serial injections or prolonged infusions cause decreased urinary 3',5'-cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) responses to subsequent PTH doses, but it is uncertain whether lower doses given over shorter periods similarly cause renal tachyphylaxis to PTH action. Thus, in seven water-loaded adults, we infused in ascending order 10, 30, 75, 150, and 300 U of synthetic bovine PTH fragment 1-34 (bPTH 1-34) per 70 kg body wt over 15 min on widely separated days ("separate day administration"). On another day, each subject received all five 15-min doses in ascending order at 75-min intervals ("single day administration"). Urine collection intervals were control, 0-30 min (including the PTH infusion), and 30-60 min. Peak nephrogenous cAMP (NcAMP, nmol/100 ml glomerular filtrate) response was linearly related to the dose of PTH (separate day study, r = 0.94, P less than 0.001; single day study, r = 0.88, P less than 0.001). However, the slope of NcAMP responses plotted against PTH dose for the single day study was only 36% of that derived from separate day administration of the same PTH doses (P less than 0.001). After only 40 U (10 + 30) of bPTH 1-34/70 kg, the NcAMP response to 75 U was reduced 44%, and the effect of 300 U/70 kg, when given as the last of the sequential single day infusions, was 64% less than the response to 300 U of bPTH 1-34 given alone (P less than 0.001). The phosphaturic response (fractional excretion of phosphorus, FEP [percent]) was also linearly related to bPTH 1-34 dose, but combined administration of the PTH infusions on one day increased FEP at each dose identically with the effects of separate day administration. A transient, dose-related, early hypercalciuric response to bPTH 1-34 also occurred, and was of equal magnitude in both protocols. These studies demonstrate that significant blunting of the NcAMP response to bPTH 1-34 occurs rapidly and follows brief exposure to relatively low doses of hormone. In contrast, there is no effect of recent PTH administration on the phosphaturic and early hypercalciuric actions of bPTH 1-34. This seeming dissociation of PTH effects makes unclear the physiologic importance of PTH-induced cAMP tachyphylaxis in the regulation of final PTH actions. In any case, studies of NcAMP responses in which the occurrence of tachyphylaxis would be undesirable should be designed to avoid prolonged or closely spaced administrations of the hormone.