The role of the voltage-sensitive Ca2+ channel (VSCC) as a target for anaesthetic action remains controversial. In this study we characterized the VSCC subtypes involved in K+-evoked norepinephrine and dopamine release from rat striatal slices and used this model system to examine the effects of a range of i.v. anaesthetics on release. Nifedipine (L-channel-selective), omega-conotoxin GVI(A) (N-channel-selective), omega-agatoxin IV(A) (P-channel-selective), omega-conotoxin MVIIc (P/Q-channel-selective) and Cd2+ (non-selective), along with alphaxalone, propofol and ketamine, were used in various combinations. Omega-Agatoxin IV(A), omega-conotoxin MVIIc and Cd2+ fully (100%) inhibited norepinephrine and dopamine release. Clinically achievable concentrations of alphaxalone inhibited norepinephrine and dopamine release, with concentrations producing 25 and 50% inhibition (IC25 and IC50) of the maximum of 2.1 and 7.8 microM respectively for norepinephrine and 2.9 and 7.2 microM for dopamine. The effects of propofol were observed at the top of the clinical range and those of ketamine exceeded this range. In addition, IC50 values for alphaxalone in the presence and absence of nifedipine and omega-conotoxin GVI(A) did not differ from the control. Our data suggest that clinically achievable concentrations of alphaxalone and propofol inhibit norepinephrine and dopamine release, which is mediated predominantly through P/Q-type VSCCs, suggesting a role for these channels in anaesthetic action.