Cortices of unfertilized sea urchin eggs can be isolated in suspension and will discharge the attached cortical vesicles (CVs) in response to calcium. We describe a simple turbidometric assay for monitoring the Ca2+-induced discharge of these vesicles and also compare the discharge of vesicles isolated in a high salt medium (primarily KCl) with a medium more closely simulating the internal milieu of the cell (primarily potassium gluconate and glycine). Discharge in response to calcium is similar in both media, requiring approximately 6 microM calcium for one-half maximal discharge. There are, however, significant differences in morphology and protein composition of the two types of preparations (more proteins present in the glycine cortices) and also in the rate of discharge of the vesicles in response to calcium (KCl cortices with t 1/2 of 6 sec as opposed to 30 sec in the glycine cortices). The glycine cortices gradually lose their ability to respond to calcium but retention of calcium sensitivity is considerably aided by inclusion of ATP in the media; ATP has no apparent effect on discharge of the KCl cortices. The glycine cortices, as opposed to the KCl cortices, exhibited variation in calcium sensitivity during the breeding season and in the number of vesicles which would not break down in response to added calcium (referred to as refractory vesicles). The question of which type of cortex preparation most closely simulates the in vivo situation is discussed, and the view is presented that the glycine cortices most closely resemble the in vivo situation.