Post-ganglionic neurones of the isolated rat superior cervical ganglion were studied at 37 degrees C under two-electrode voltage-clamp conditions. Membrane depolarization beyond -40 mV from holding levels between -50 and -100 mV produced a delayed outward current which exhibited no inactivation within this voltage range. The current is carried primarily by K+ ions and its instantaneous I-V relation is linear. The total outward current could be separated into two distinct components on the basis of ion-substitution experiments. A voltage-dependent component of the delayed current, termed IK(V), is activated by membrane depolarization beyond -40 mV when Ca2+ fluxes are selectively blocked by Cd2+ or in Ca2+-free solution. IK(V) develops following first-order kinetics and rises to a peak with a voltage-dependent delay (239 ms at -30 mV and 23 ms at +10 mV). GK(V) attains a saturating value of the order of 17 mS/cm2 at about +20 mV and can be described in terms of a simple Boltzmann distribution for a single gating particle with a valency equal to +2.5. A second component of the delayed outward current, termed IK(Ca), depends on Ca2+ entry for its activation and was isolated as difference current before and after block of Ca2+ movements across the membrane. IK(Ca) is larger and faster than IK(V): it is strictly related to Ca2+ influx and also depends on membrane potential depolarization. A distinct Ca2+ current, ICa, was recorded from the neurone exposed to Na+-free or tetrodotoxin solution. ICa was activated by membrane depolarization beyond -30 mV and reached a maximum value near 0 mV. Its activation agrees with fourth-order kinetics and becomes faster with increasing depolarization. The Ca2+ current developed with a voltage-dependent time to peak of 2.9-1.8 ms and thereafter completely inactivated. The relationship between ICa and IK(Ca) is discussed. The Ca2+-k+ repolarizing system is expected to be mainly associated with action potentials arising from a depolarized neurone, whereas the IA current (Belluzzi, Sacchi & Wanke, 1985) dominates the repolarization mechanism at the normal membrane potential. The effect of muscarine was examined. Muscarine (10-50 microM) produced a fall in conductance with a voltage dependence similar to that exhibited by GK(Ca) and was ineffective when removing extracellular Ca2+ or adding Cd2+. A partial suppression of ICa by muscarine is demonstrated. It is suggested that the decrease of the outward current magnitude in the presence of muscarine may be accounted for qualitatively by the reduction in ICa.