The effects of extracellular Ca2+ on indomethacin-induced disruption to rabbit dispersed gastric mucosal cells have been examined. Fundic mucosal cells were isolated, and cellular viability and disruption were assessed by the release of the lysosomal enzyme acid phosphatase and by trypan blue dye exclusion. Addition of the Ca2+ ionophore A23187 (12.5 and 25 microM) and indomethacin (0.1-10 microM) to the incubation medium induced concentration-dependent increases in enzyme marker release and trypan blue dye uptake in the cells. The resultant cellular disruption in response to incubation of cells with combinations of indomethacin and A23187 was not significantly different from that observed when the agents were administered separately. The degree of cell injury was reduced by removal of Ca2+ from the incubation medium. Similarly preincubation with the Ca2+ channel antagonist verapamil (1 microM) reduced A23187- and indomethacin-induced cell injury. Both A23187 (25 microM) and indomethacin (10 microM) treatments increased cytosolic Ca2+ concentration ([Ca2+]i). Pretreatment of cells with 16,16-dimethylprostaglandin E2 (0.1-10 microM) reduced both indomethacin (10 microM) induced cellular damage and the elevation in [Ca2+]i. These data suggest that indomethacin-induced disruption of gastric mucosal cells is dependent to some extent upon extracellular Ca2+. An inappropriate Ca2+ flux may contribute to indomethacin-induced damage to gastric mucosal cells.