Exocytosis and the cell-averaged cytosolic [Ca2+], [Ca2+]i, were tracked in single gonadotrophs. Cells released 100 granules/s at 1 microM = [Ca2+]i when gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) activated IP3-mediated Ca2+ release from internal stores, but only 1 granule/s when [Ca2+]i was raised uniformly to 1 microM by other means. Strong exocytosis was then seen only at higher [Ca2+]i (half-maximal at 16 microM). Parallel second messengers did not contribute to GnRH-induced exocytosis, because IP3 alone was as effective as GnRH, and because even GnRH failed to trigger rapid exocytosis when the [Ca2+]i rise was blunted by EGTA. When [Ca2+]i was released from stores, exocytosis depended on [Ca2+]i rising rapidly, as if governed by Ca2+ flux into the cytosol. We suggest that IP3 releases Ca2+ selectively from subsurface cisternae, raising [Ca2+] near exocytic sites 5-fold above the cell average.