We investigated whether alterations in the mechanisms involved in intracellular pH (pHin) and intracellular calcium ([Ca2+]in) homeostasis are associated with the metastatic potential of poorly (A375P) and highly (C8161) metastatic human melanoma cells. We monitored pHin and [Ca2+]in simultaneously, using the fluorescence of SNARF-1 and Fura-2, respectively. Our results indicated that steady-state pHin and [Ca2+]in between these cell types were not significantly different. Treatment of cells with NH4Cl resulted in larger pHin increases in highly than in poorly metastatic cells, suggesting that C8161 cells have a lower H+ buffering capacity than A375P. NH4Cl treatment also increased [Ca2+]in only in C8161 cells. To determine if the changes in [Ca2+]in triggered by NH4Cl treatment were due to alterations in either H+- or Ca2+-buffering capacity, cells were treated with the Ca2+-ionophore 4Br-A23187, to alter [Ca2+]in. The magnitude of the ionophore-induced [Ca2+]in increase was slightly greater in C8161 cells than in A375P. Moreover, A375P cells recover from the ionophore-induced [Ca2+]in load, whereas C8161 cells did not, suggesting that A375P may exhibit distinct [Ca2+]in regulatory mechanisms than C8161 cells, to recover from Ca2+ loads. Removal of extracellular Ca2+ ([Ca2+]ex) decreased [Ca2+]in in both cell types at the same extent. Ionophore treatment in the absence of [Ca2+]ex transiently increased [Ca2+]in in C8161, but not in A375P cells. Endoplasmic reticulum (ER) Ca2+-ATPase inhibitors such as cyclopiazonic acid (CPA) and thapsigargin (TG) increased steady-state [Ca2+]in only in C8161 cells. Together, these data suggest that the contribution of intracellular Ca2+ stores for [Ca2+]in homeostasis is greater in highly than in poorly metastatic cells. Bafilomycin treatment, to inhibit V-type H+-ATPases, corroborated our previous results that V-H+-ATPases are functionally expressed at the plasma membranes of highly metastatic, but not in poorly metastatic cells (Martínez-Zaguilán et al., 1993). Collectively, these data suggest that distinct pHin and [Ca2+]in regulatory mechanisms are present in poorly and highly metastatic human melanoma cells.