1. Mast cells, isolated from rat peritoneum, were studied under tight-seal, whole-cell recording conditions. Membrane conductance, membrane capacitance and the concentration of free intracellular Ca2+, [Ca2+]i, were measured simultaneously. 2. [Ca2+]i could be accurately buffered to values between 0 and 1.5 microM only if relatively high concentrations of calcium buffers (in the millimolar range) were added to the pipette filling solution against which the cytoplasm was dialysed. At lower buffer concentrations [Ca2+]i was markedly increased by hyperpolarizing the membrane. 3. When added to the pipette, guanosine-3-thio-triphosphate (GTP-gamma-S), a nonhydrolysable analogue of guanosine triphosphate, stimulated a 3.3-fold increase in membrane capacitance, which is indicative of mast cell degranulation (Fernandez, Neher & Gomperts, 1984). 4. In weakly buffered cells, GTP-gamma-S also induced a transient increase in [Ca2+]i which, usually, preceded degranulation. Calcium buffers at 1-5 mM concentration suppressed this transient. 5. High [Ca2+]i alone did not induce degranulation. However, it markedly accelerated GTP-gamma-S-induced degranulation. When [Ca2+]i was buffered to zero, an appreciable fraction of cells degranulated in response to GTP-gamma-S, but very slowly, and only after a long lag phase. 6. Transient increases in [Ca2+]i, evoked either by GTP-gamma-S, or by voltage changes, did not elicit capacitance changes during the lag phase, but accelerated the GTP-gamma-S-induced degranulation response at later times. 7. Internally applied inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate (IP3) also induced transient increases in [Ca2+]i which did not lead to secretion in the absence of GTP-gamma-S. 8. It is concluded that an increase in [Ca2+]i is neither necessary nor sufficient for secretion from dialysed mast cells. [Ca2+]i, however, acts synergistically with other stimuli to promote secretion. It is the more efficient the more time the other stimulus had been allowed for priming the cell.