Calcium permeabilities were examined in large cerebellar neurons maintained in culture, and morphologically identified as Purkinje cells. When cells were supplied with a Dulbecco Minimum Eagle's Medium with 10% horse serum added (5-10 days), somatic recordings revealed complex spikes and these were shown to be generated by Na and Ca components, the Na one being tetrodotoxin-sensitive. At the dendritic level, Ca currents were better resolved than at the soma. In dendrites, Ca entry was shown to occur through at least two distinct currents. The first was a low-threshold transient current (elicited above -60 mV from a holding potential of -80 mV) which was reduced by almost 30% by 50 microM cadmium. The second was a high-threshold current (above -20 mV) which gave rise to (1) a transient component exhibiting a steady-state inactivation and so requiring holding potentials at -80 mV, and (2) a sustained component. Both components were suppressed by 50 microns cadmium. We measured a total Ca current at the dendritic level reaching values of up to 1 nA. In another culture medium (Leibovitz medium) known to allow expression of three types of calcium currents in nodose cells we observed the development of the dendritic tree of Purkinje cells but with no simultaneous expression of the high-threshold Ca current.