The role of the plasma membrane in the regulation of lens fiber cell cytosolic Ca2+ concentration has been examined using a vesicular preparation derived from calf lenses. Calcium accumulation by these vesicles was ATP dependent, and was releasable by the ionophore A23187, indicating that calcium was transported into a vesicular space. Calcium accumulation was stimulated by Ca2+ (K1/2 = 0.08 microM Ca2+) potassium (maximally at 50 mM K+), and cAMP-dependent protein kinase; it was inhibited by both vanadate (IC50 = 5 microM) and the calmodulin inhibitor R24571 (IC50 = 5 microM), indicating that this pump was plasma-membrane derived and likely calmodulin dependent. Valinomycin, in the presence of K+, stimulated calcium uptake, suggesting that the calcium pump either countertransports K+, or is regulated in an electrogenic fashion. Inhibition of calcium uptake by selenite and p-chloromercuribenzoate demonstrates the presence of an essential -SH group(s) in this enzyme. Calcium release from calcium-filled lens vesicles was enhanced by Na+, demonstrating that these vesicles also contain a Na:Ca exchange carrier. p-Chloromercuribenzoate and p-chloromercuribenzoate sulfonic acid also promoted calcium release from calcium-filled vesicles, suggesting that this release, like calcium uptake, is in part mediated by a cysteine-containing protein. We conclude that lens fiber cell cytosolic Ca2+ concentration could be regulated by a number of plasma membrane processes. The sensitivity of both calcium uptake and release to -SH reagents has implications in lens cataract formation, where oxidation of lens proteins has been proposed to account for the elevated cytosolic Ca2+ in this condition.