Secretion of salt and water by the epithelial cells that line pancreatic ducts depends on activation of apical membrane Cl- conductance. In the present study, we characterized two types of Cl- conductances present in the apical cell membrane of bovine pancreatic duct epithelial cells. Primary cultures of bovine main pancreatic duct epithelium and an immortalized cell line (BPD1) derived from primary cultures were used. Elevation of intracellular adenosine 3',5'-cyclic monophosphate (cAMP) or Ca2+ in intact monolayers of duct epithelium induced sustained anion secretion. Agonist-induced changes in plasma membrane Cl- permeability were accessed by 36 Cl- efflux, whole cell current recording, and measurements of transepithelial Cl- current across permeabilized epithelial monolayers. Elevation of intracellular cAMP elicited a sustained increase in Cl- permeability, whereas elevation of intracellular Ca2+ induced only a transient increase in Cl- permeability. Ca(2+)- but not cAMP-induced increases in Cl- permeability were abolished by preincubation of cells with the Ca2+ buffer 1,2-bis(2-aminophenoxy)ethane-N,N,N',N'-tetraacetic acid, tetra(acetoxymethyl) ester (BAPTA-AM). N-phenylanthranilic acid (DPC; 1 mM) and glibenclamide (100 microM), but not 4,4'-diisothiocyanostilbene-2,2'-disulfonic acid (DIDS; 500 microM), inhibited the cAMP-induced increase in Cl- permeability. In contrast, DPC and DIDS, but not glibenclamide, inhibited the Ca(2+)-induced increase in Cl- permeability. We conclude from these experiments that bovine pancreatic duct epithelial cells express at least two types of Cl- channels, cAMP and Ca2+ activated, in the apical cell membrane. Because the Ca(2+)-activated increase in Cl- permeability is transient, the extent to which this pathway contributes to sustained anion secretion by the ductal epithelium remains to be determined.