1. We characterized Ca(2+)-activated Cl- currents in calf pulmonary artery endothelial (CPAE) cells by using a combined patch clamp and fura-2 microfluorescence technique to simultaneously measure ionic currents and the intracellular Ca2+ concentration, [Ca2+]i. 2. Various procedures that increased [Ca2+]i, such as stimulation with ATP or ionomycin, or loading the cells with Ca2+ via the patch pipette, activated a strongly outwardly rectifying current with a reversal potential close to the Cl- equilibrium potential. Changing the extracellular Cl- concentration shifted this reversal potential as predicted for a Cl- current. Buffering Ca2+ rises with BAPTA prevented ATP from activating the current. 3. Ca(2+)-activated Cl- currents could be distinguished from volume-activated Cl- currents, which were sometimes coactivated in the same cell. The latter showed much less outward rectification, their activation was voltage independent, and they could be inhibited by exposing the cells to hypertonic solutions. 4. The permeability ratio for the Ca(2+)-activated conductance of the anions iodide:chloride: gluconate was 1.71 +/- 0.06:1:0.39 +/- 0.03 (n = 12). 5. This Ca(2+)-activated Cl- current, ICl, Ca, inactivated rapidly at negative potentials and activated slowly at positive potentials. Outward tail currents were slowly decaying, while inward tail currents decayed much faster. 6. 4,4'-Diisothiocyanatostilbene-2,2'-disulphonic-acid (DIDS) and niflumic acid inhibited Icl,Ca in a voltage-dependent manner, i.e. they exerted a more potent block at positive potentials. The block by N-phenylanthracilic acid (NPA), 5-nitro-2-(3-phenylpropylamino)-benzoate (NPPB) and tamoxifen was voltage independent. Niflumic acid and tamoxifen were the most potent blockers. 7. The single-channel conductance was 7.9 +/- 0.7 pS (n = 15) at 300 mM extracellular Cl-. The channel open probability was high at positive potentials, but very small at negative potentials. 8. It is concluded that [Ca2+]i activates small-conductance Cl- channels in endothelial cells, which coexist with the volume-activated Cl- channels described previously.