The concentration of free Ca2+ in the cytoplasm and organelles of individual mouse pancreatic beta-cells was estimated with dual wavelength microfluorometry and the indicators Fura-2 and furaptra. Measuring the increase of cytoplasmic Ca2+ resulting from intracellular mobilization of the ion in ob/ob mouse beta-cells, most organelle calcium (92%) was found in acidic compartments released when combining the Ca2+ ionophore Br-A23187 with a protonophore. Only 3-4% of organelle calcium was recovered from a pool sensitive to the Ca(2+)-ATPase inhibitor thapsigargin. Organelle Ca2+ was also measured directly in furaptra-loaded beta-cells after controlled plasma membrane permeabilization. The permeabilizing agent alpha-toxin was superior to digitonin in preserving the integrity of intracellular membranes, but digitonin provided more reproducible access to intracellular sites. After permeabilization, the thapsigargin-sensitive fraction of Ca2+ detected by furaptra was as high as 90%, suggesting that the indicator essentially measures Ca2+ in endoplasmic reticulum (ER). Both alpha-toxin- and digitonin-permeabilized cells exhibited ATP-dependent uptake of Ca2+ into thapsigargin-sensitive stores with half-maximal and maximal filling at 6-11 microM and 1 mM ATP respectively. Most of the thapsigargin-sensitive Ca2+ was mobilized by inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate (IP3), whereas caffeine, ryanodine, cyclic ADP ribose and nicotinic acid adenine dinucleotide phosphate lacked effects both in beta-cells from ob/ob mice and normal NMRI mice. Mobilization of organelle Ca2+ by 4-chloro-3-methylphenol was attributed to interference with the integrity of the ER rather than to activation of ryanodine receptors. The observations emphasize the importance of IP3 for Ca2+ mobilization in pancreatic beta-cells, but question a role for ryanodine receptor agonists.