Neutrophils are guided to the sites of infection or inflammation by gradients of chemoattractants. Chemoattractants stimulate rapid and repeated changes in neutrophil intracellular calcium, [Ca2+]i, which correlate with cell spreading, pseudopod extension, motility, change of direction and phagocytosis. However, blocking the [Ca2+]i transients has little effect on cell spreading, polarization or pseudopod extension. Thus, either the [Ca2+]i transients are not required for cell spreading, polarization or pseudopod extension or other redundant mechanisms are present that allow the cells to perform these functions in vitro. In contrast, cell motility is [Ca2+]i dependent when the cells are examined on physiological substrates such as fibronectin or vitronectin. Calcium-buffered cells appear to make repeated attempts to move but are unable to detach from a fibronectin or vitronectin substrate. Motility can be restored to [Ca2+]i buffered cells by blocking substrate attachment with RGD peptides or by using a less adherent substrate such as albumin. A similar inhibition of motility on vitronectin could be induced by inhibitors of the calcium/calmodulin-dependent phosphatase, calcineurin. Thus, the periodic increases in [Ca2+]i apparently activate the phosphatase calcineurin to initiate a cycle of detachment from the vitronectin substratum. These data suggest that the [Ca2+]i transients regulate motility by coordinating a series of substrate-specific attachment/detachment events.