1. The role of voltage-dependent Ca2+ channels during vasopressin and oxytocin actions on their respective neurones has been analysed by measuring intracellular Ca2+ concentration ([Ca2+]i) in individual, freshly dissociated magnocellular neurones from rat supraoptic nucleus (SO) using microspectrofluorimetry. 2. Pre-incubation of vasopressin-sensitive neurones with Cd2+ (100 microM), a non-discriminatory high-voltage-activated Ca2+ channel antagonist, or Ni2+ (50 microM), a blocker of T-type Ca2+ current, reduced [Ca2+]i responses by 77 and 19%, respectively. When Cd2+ was given together with Ni2+, the response was blocked by 92%. Similarly, when Ni2+ was pre-incubated with Cd2+, the response was blocked by approximately 84%. 3. Exposure of vasopressin sensitive neurones to a specific Ca2+ channel blocker, nicardipine (L-type) reduced vasopressin responses by 48% at 1 microM and 62% at 5 microM. Similarly, omega-conotoxin GVIA (omega-CgTX, N-type; 500 nM) inhibited the response by 46% with a stronger inhibition (75%) at 800 nM. By contrast, neither omega-agatoxin IVA (omega-Aga IVA; 300 nM), which blocks both P- and Q-type channels, nor synthetic omega-conotoxin MVIIC (omega-MVIIC; 100 or 500 nM), a Q-type blocker, affected vasopressin-induced [Ca2+]i responses. These antagonists, given together (nicardipine 5 microM + omega-CgTX 800 nM + omega-Aga IVA 300 nM), decreased vasopressin-induced [Ca2+]i responses by 76%. 4. In vasopressin-sensitive neurones, the presence of both nicardipine and omega-CgTX, reduced the K(+)-evoked [Ca2+]i increase by 61%. This blockade was increased by a further 21% with omega-Aga IVA, suggesting that N-, L- and P-type channels contribute to the depolarization-induced [Ca2+]i rise. In addition, omega-MVIIC alone reduced the K(+)-evoked [Ca2+]i release by 24%. Also the remaining K+ responses were further reduced by 60% when pre-incubated with L-N- and P-type blockers, suggesting the involvement of Q-type channels. 5. In oxytocin-sensitive neurones, the peak amplitude of the [Ca2+]i response was not affected by Cd2+ alone, by combined Cd2+ and Ni2+, or by the mixture of nicardipine, omega-CgTX and omega-Aga IVA. By contrast, the responses evoked by depolarization with K+ were blocked by Cd2+. Both nicardipine and omega-CgTX blocked 65% of K+ response and an additional block of approximately 18% was obtained with omega-Aga IVA, suggesting the involvement of L-, N- and P-type channels. In combination, these antagonists strongly inhibited (approximately 80% reduction) the K+ responses. Further reduction to 18% was made by the Q-type blocker omega-MVIIC. Pre-incubation with L-, N- and P-type blockers caused an additional block of 71%. 6. Some supraoptic neurones (5-10%) responded to both vasopressin and oxytocin, with only the [Ca2+]i responses induced by vasopressin blocked (> 90% inhibition) by the mixture of Ca2+ channel antagonists. 7. In conclusion, both vasopressin and oxytocin magnocellular SO neurones have been shown to express T-, L-, N-, P-, Q- and R-type Ca2+ channels in their somata. Our results show that the vasopressin-induced [Ca2+]i increase in vasopressin-sensitive neurones is mediated by L-, N- and T-type Ca2+ channels and not by P- and Q-type channels; Ca2+ channels are not involved in oxytocin action on oxytocin-sensitive neurones and L-, N-, P- and Q-type channels control the K(+)-induced [Ca2+]i increase in SO neurones.