The effect of sphingosine on intracellular calcium signalling in glioma C6 cells was studied with Fura-2 video imaging technique. Sphingosine had a direct effect on changes in cytosolic Ca2+ concentration only when applied at high concentration of 100 microM, causing the cytosolic Ca2+ level to rise. However, at a much lower concentration of 15 microM sphingosine diminished calcium responses triggered by thapsigargin (a specific inhibitor of calcium pump in the endoplasmic reticulum) and ionomycin (calcium ionophore). Since responses to thapsigargin and ionomycin were blocked in Ca(2+)-free medium, we postulate that sphingosine is acting on the intracellular calcium stores. Additionally, sphingosine (at 15 microM and 100 microM) markedly decreases thapsigargin-induced sustained elevation in cytosolic Ca2+ concentration, indicating its inhibitory effect on thapsigargin-evoked Ca2+ influx. Sphingosine is a known inhibitor of protein kinase C and the involvement of this enzyme is postulated in the modulatory effects of sphingosine on intracellular calcium dynamics.