Receptor-activated cytoplasmic Ca2+ oscillations have been investigated using both single cell microfluorometry and voltage-clamp recording of Ca(2+)-dependent Cl- current in single internally perfused acinar cells. In these cells there is direct experimental evidence showing that the ACh-evoked [Ca2+]i fluctuations are due to an inositol trisphosphate-induced small steady Ca2+ release which in turn evokes repetitive Ca2+ spikes via a caffeine-sensitive Ca(2+)-induced Ca2+ release process. There is indirect evidence suggesting that receptor-activation in addition to generating the Ca2+ releasing messenger, inositol trisphosphate, also produces another regulator involved in the control of Ca2+ signal spreading. Intracellular inositol trisphosphate or Ca2+ infusion produce short duration repetitive spikes confined to the cytoplasmic area close to the plasma membrane, but these signals can be made to progress throughout the cell by addition of caffeine or by receptor activation.