Interactions between the enteric pathogen Salmonella typhimurium and the luminal surface of the intestine provoke an acute inflammatory response, mediated in part by epithelial cell secretion of the chemokine IL-8 and other proinflammatory molecules. This study investigated the mechanism by which this pathogen induces IL-8 secretion in physiologically polarized model intestinal epithelia. IL-8 secretion induced by both the prototypical proinflammatory cytokine TNF-alpha and S. typhimurium was NF-kappaB dependent. However, NF-kappaB activation and IL-8 secretion induced by S. typhimurium, but not by TNF-alpha, was preceded by and required an increase in intracellular [Ca(2+)]. Additionally, agonists that increased intracellular [Ca(2+)] by receptor-dependent (carbachol) or independent (thapsigargin, ionomycin) means also induced IL-8 secretion. Furthermore, the ability of S. typhimurium mutants to induce IkappaB-alpha degradation, NF-kappaB translocation, and IL-8 transcription and secretion correlated precisely with their ability to induce an intracellular [Ca(2+)] increase in model intestinal epithelia, but not with their ability to invade these cells. Finally, S. typhimurium, but not TNF-alpha, induced a Ca(2+)-dependent phosphorylation of IkappaB-alpha. These results indicate that S. typhimurium-induced activation of NF-kappaB-dependent epithelial inflammatory responses proceeds by a Ca(2+)-mediated activation of an IkappaB-alpha kinase. These observations raise the possibility that pharmacologic intervention of the acute inflammatory response can be selectively matched to the specific class of initiating event.