1. The effects of intracellular Ca2+ buffering on hair cell mechanotransduction were studied in an intact cochlear epithelium where the endolymphatic and perilymphatic surfaces could be separately perfused with different Ca2+ solutions. 2. The speed and extent of transducer adaptation increased as the concentration in the patch electrode of the Ca2+ buffer BAPTA was lowered. In 0.1 mM BAPTA or less, the transducer adapted almost completely, with a mean time constant of 0.8 ms. 3. For a fixed internal BAPTA concentration, the transducer conductance varied with hair cell location, increasing towards the high-frequency end of the cochlea, and the time constant of adaptation decreased proportionally. At a given cochlear location, hair cells with larger transducer conductances displayed faster adaptation. We suggest that transducer adaptation accounts for a variable high-pass filter observed in the acoustic tuning curve. 4. The effects of perfusion of 50 microM Ca2+ endolymph depended on the BAPTA concentration of the electrode: with 3 mM BAPTA, adaptation was abolished, but in most recordings with 0.01 or 0.1 mM BAPTA, rapid adaptation was retained. The current-displacement curve was also shifted less the lower the intracellular BAPTA concentration. Cells in the high-frequency half of the papilla retained adaptation at a higher BAPTA concentration. 5. Treatment with the cAMP agonist, 8-bromo-cAMP, or with the phosphodiesterase inhibitor 3-isobutyl-1-methylxanthine, caused a rightward shift in the current-displacement curve which was independent of the internal BAPTA concentration. 6. We conclude that the free Ca2+ and cyclic nucleotide concentrations of the hair bundle modulate the position of the activation curve of the transducer. The factors which may be important for the correct functioning of adaptation in vivo are discussed.