Most intestinal secretagogues, including cholera toxin, evoke fluid secretion in part by activating the enteric nervous system (ENS). The enterotoxins that, due to size, cannot pass the intestinal epithelial lining have been proposed to activate the ENS via the release of amines/peptides from the intestinal endocrine cells. It has been shown that calcium channel blockers of the L-type attenuate intestinal fluid secretion. This study was performed on rat jejunal segments to elucidate where calcium channel antagonists interact with the secretory nervous reflex(es) of the ENS. In vivo, net fluid transport, transmural potential difference (PD) and luminal release of serotonin from the enterochromaffin cells were monitored before and after exposing the intestinal mucosa to cholera toxin (20 microg/mL) or the calcium ionophore A23187 (0.5 mM). In vitro, the effects of transmural electrical field stimulation (EFS) on short circuit current (SCC) was investigated using the Ussing chamber method. Cholera toxin and A23187 evoked a net fluid secretion, an increased PD and an augmented luminal release of 5-HT. These effects were markedly attenuated by giving the calcium channel blocker nifedipine i.v. (5.75 micromol kg(-1) body wt). On the other hand, nifedipine (0.02 mM) had no significant effect on the increased SCC caused by EFS in vitro. The results obtained in the in vivo experiments suggest that the nifedipine markedly attenuates the initial event in cholera toxin- and A23187-induced secretion, the release of amines and probably also of peptides from the intestinal endocrine cells. The in vitro experiments seem to exclude an effect of the calcium channel blockade on the efferent part of the secretory nervous reflex.