[Ca2+]i was measured using fura-2-loaded isolated catfish horizontal cells in the presence of L-glutamate and the glutamate analogs kainate (KA), quisqualate (QA), and NMDA. Caffeine was used to release Ca2+ from intracellular stores. Cell membrane potential was controlled with a voltage clamp to prevent activation of voltage-dependent Ca2+ channels in the presence of agonist. All excitatory amino acid agonists produced a rapid and sustained rise in [Ca2+]i with the order of potency being QA greater than Glu greater than KA greater than NMDA. The agonist-induced [Ca2+]i increase was blocked in reduced [Ca2+]o and by 6-cyano-7-nitroquinoxaline-2,3-dione and 2-amino-5- phosphonopentanoate, which are specific blockers for QA/KA and NMDA receptors, respectively. The metabotropic receptor agonist trans-1- amino-1,3-cyclopentanedicarboxylic acid (ACPD; 10–200 microM) had no effect on [Ca2+]i. Hill coefficients from curves fitted to concentration-response data suggested an amplification of the Ca2+ signal that was interpreted as calcium-induced calcium release (CICR) from intracellular Ca2+ stores. Caffeine (10 mM) produced a rapid transient rise in [Ca2+]i, confirming the existence of a Ca(2+)- sensitive store. Following caffeine-induced depletion of Ca2+ from intracellular stores, agonists were still able to produce increases in [Ca2+]i, confirming Ca2+ influx through the agonist-gated channel. The agonist-induced increase in [Ca2+]i was decreased following caffeine- induced depletion, confirming a process of CICR. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that excitatory amino acids can produce direct modulation of [Ca2+]i by influx through the agonist-gated channel and by CICR from intracellular stores.