A complete understanding of how excitatory ligand-gated ion channels regulate intracellular Ca2+ in nerve cells remains to be elucidated. Laser-scanning confocal microscopy was used here to measure Ca2+ changes in the neuroblastoma x glioma hybrid cell line NG108-15, employed as a model nerve cell line, upon activation by the 5-HT3 receptor, a serotonin-activated ligand-gated ion channel. Addition of the 5-HT3 agonist 1-m-(chlorophenyl)-biguanide (mCPBG) induced increases in [Ca2+]i in both the cytoplasm and the nuclei of the NG108-15 cells. Using high-time resolution line scanning, no delay was evident between the mCPBG-induced rise in cytosolic [Ca2+]i and the rise in nuclear [Ca2+]i. The agonist-induced responses were completely blocked by addition of EGTA to chelate external Ca2+ and by addition of the 5-HT3 receptor antagonist tropisetron or the L-type Ca2+ channel blocker nitrendipine. Caffeine, but not thapsigargin, treatment significantly reduced the mCPBG-induced responses in the nucleus and the cytoplasm, both to the same extent. We conclude that, upon 5-HT3 receptor activation, Ca2+ enters the cells through voltage-gated Ca2+ channels and then triggers the release of Ca2+ from ryanodine-sensitive intracellular stores, greatly amplifying the increases in Ca2+ in the cytoplasm and the nucleus.