Human adrenal medullary chromaffin cells were prepared and cultured from a cystic tumoral adrenal gland whose medullary tissue was unaffected. Adrenaline-containing and noradrenaline-containing cells were identified using a confocal fluorescence microscope and antibodies against dopamine beta-hydroxylase (DBH) and phenylethanolamine N-methyltransferase (PNMT). Current/voltage (I/V) curves performed with the voltage-clamped cells bathed in 10 mM Ba2+ (holding potential, Vh=-80 mV) revealed the presence of only high-threshold voltage-dependent Ca2+ channels; T-type Ca2+ channels were not seen. By using supramaximal concentrations of selective Ca2+ channel blockers, the whole-cell IBa could be fractionated into various subcomponents. Thus, IBa had a 25% fraction sensitive to 1 microM nifedipine (L-type channels), 21% sensitive to 1 microM omega-conotoxin GVIA (N-type channels), and 60% sensitive to 2 microM omega-agatoxin IVA (P/Q-type channels). The activation of IBa was considerably slowed down, and the peak current was inhibited upon superfusion with 10 microM ATP. The slow activation and peak current blockade were reversed by strong depolarizing pre-pulses to +100 mV (facilitation). A drastic facilitation of IBa was also observed in voltage-clamped human chromaffin cell surrounded by other unclamped cells; in contrast, in voltage-clamped cells not immersed in a cell cluster, facilitation was scarce. So, facilitation of Ca2+ channels in a voltage-clamped cell seems to depend upon the exocytotic activity of neighbouring unclamped cells, which is markedly increased by Ba2+. It is concluded that human adrenal chromaffin cells mostly express P/Q-types of voltage-dependent Ca2+ channels (60%). L-Type channels and N-type channels are also expressed, but to a considerably minor extent (around 20% each). This dominance of P/Q-type channels in human chromaffin cells clearly contrasts with the relative proportion of each channel type expressed by chromaffin cells of five other animal species studied previously, where the P/Q-type channels accounted for 5-50%. The results also provide strong support for the hypothesis that Ca2+ channels of human chromaffin cells are regulated in an autocrine/paracrine fashion by materials co-secreted with the catecholamines, i.e. ATP and opiates.