In the substantia nigra pars compacta neurons can be classified in two sub-populations. In this study the distinguishing criteria have been the presence of four distinct calcium-dependent potentials, two each generated selectively and exclusively in each cell type. One class of cells, found in the more caudal pars compacta, displays calcium-mediated, slow oscillatory potentials which occur spontaneously and generate long-duration afterhyperpolarizations. A second, much faster calcium spike can be evoked after the blockade of sodium and potassium channels. This spike has a high generation threshold and is followed by a fast afterhyperpolarization. The other group of neurons is distributed principally in the rostral substantia nigra, at the level of the mammilary bodies. In these cells, a low-threshold calcium spike is generated that (i) inactivates at depolarized potentials, (ii) has no active negative phase, and (iii) causes burst firing action potentials. In all these three respects, this transient differs from the slow oscillatory potential in the more caudal group of neurons. In addition, a short-duration calcium-dependent potential can be evoked at a high threshold. Both the low- and high-threshold spikes of the rostral cells are attenuated in experiments where dendrites have been sectioned prior to the recording. The membrane properties of the caudal cell group, including the fast calcium spike, are unaffected by dendritic sectioning. It is suggested that in the guinea-pig the calcium conductances in the caudal neurons operate in or near the cell body and might play a large (though not necessarily exclusive) role in regulating autorhythmicity. In the more rostral cells, the characteristics of their particular calcium conductances which seem to be located more distally would prompt a mediating function in the secretion, and subsequent action, of neuroactive substances from dendrites.