We have tested whether action potential-evoked Ca2+ influx is required to initiate clathrin-mediated synaptic vesicle endocytosis in the lamprey reticulospinal synapse. Exo- and endocytosis were temporally separated by a procedure involving tonic action potential stimulation and subsequent removal of extracellular Ca2+ (Ca2+e). A low concentration of Ca2+ ([Ca2+]e of 11 microM) was found to be required for the induction of early stages of endocytosis. However, the entire endocytic process, from the formation of clathrin-coated membrane invaginations to the generation of synaptic vesicles, proceeded in the absence of action potential-mediated Ca2+ entry. Our results indicate that the membrane of synaptic vesicles newly incorporated in the plasma membrane is a sufficient trigger of clathrin-mediated synaptic vesicle endocytosis.