Since calcium is involved in both excitation-secretion and excitation-contraction coupling, it was of interest to evaluate its involvement in atrial natriuretic factor (ANF) release from atrial cardiocytes. In medium containing physiological levels of calcium (1.4 mM), the secretion of ANF from primary atrial cells was stimulated from 3- to 6-fold by a variety of agents including KCl, phenylephrine, and endothelium (ET). However, in medium containing 2 nM calcium, KCl was incapable of increasing ANF secretion above basal levels, while the stimulatory effects of phenylephrine and ET were only partially diminished. Nifedipine or verapamil could mimic the effects of the 2 nM calcium medium on KCl-, phenylephrine-, and ET-stimulated ANF secretion. Kinetic studies indicated that during the initial 5 min of ET-stimulated secretion the cells exhibited little requirement for extracellular calcium; however, the requirement was more apparent during the sustained secretion observed between 10 min and 2 h of secretagogue exposure. Additionally, the stimulation of ANF secretion by ET increased to a maximum of about 15-fold over basal by 10-min after ET application; subsequent to this time there was an apparent functional desensitization wherein the rate of secretion decreased by approximately 3-4-fold and remained at this level for the duration of secretagogue exposure up to 2 h. All forms of stimulated secretion could be inhibited through ionomycin-mediated depletion of intracellular calcium pools. Taken together, these results indicate that atrial cardiocytes require both extracellular and intracellular calcium to support maximal rates of stimulated ANF secretion, and that intracellular calcium pools may be used during the early phase of secretion, while the extracellular source of calcium may be important for the sustained phase of secretion.