The transmission of receptor-generated cytoplasmic Ca2+ signals between communicating pancreatic acinar cells has been investigated by comparing patch-clamp recordings of Ca(2+)-dependent Cl- current in internally perfused single cells and small multi-cell clusters. Acetylcholine (50 nM) generates shortlasting repetitive spikes of Ca(2+)-dependent current and these spikes are not transmitted to neighbouring cells. Cholecystokinin octapeptide (5 pM) also generates repetitive spikes, but a significant proportion of these trigger longer and larger pulses of Ca(2+)-dependent current and these waves can easily spread from cell to cell. In pancreatic acinar units it is therefore possible to observe both local Ca2+ signals confined to the cell of its origin as well as Ca2+ signals that spread through communicating junctions to all cells in the unit.