Changes in extracellular calcium (CaB) concentration ([Ca2+]o) affect kidney function both under basal and hormone-stimulated conditions. The molecular identification of an extracellular Ca2+-sensing receptor (CaR) has confirmed a direct role of CaB on parathyroid and kidney function (i.e. independent of calciotropic hormones)s as a modulator of Ca2+ homeostasis. In addition, evidence accumulated over the last 10 years has shown that CaR is also expressed in regions outside the calcium homeostatic system where its role is largely undefined but seems to be linked to regulation of local ionic homeostasis. The parathyroid and kidney CaRs are 1081 and 1079 amino acids long, respectively, and belong to the type III family of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), which includes other CaRs, metabotropic glutamate receptors and putative vomeronasal organ receptors. For the CaR, its low (millimolar) affinity for Ca2+, its positive cooperativity and its large ionsensing extracellular domain, indicate that the receptor is more sensitive to changes in net cationic charge rather than to a specific ligand. Mg2+, trivalent cations of the lanthanide series and polyvalent cations such as spermine and aminoglycoside antibiotics can all activate the receptor in vitro with EC50 values in the micromolar range for trivalent and polyvalent cations or in the millimolar range for Ca2+ and Mg2+. In addition to true CaR agonists, CaR sensitivity to CaBis also susceptible to allosteric modulation by ionic strength, L-amino acids and by pharmacological agents. This review will address endogenous and exogenous CaR agonists, the role of the receptor in the calcium homeostatic system and some speculation on possible role(s) of the CaR in regions not involved in mineral ion homeostasis.