A major mechanism in cell volume regulation after hypoosmotic stress is K+ release. Our studies show that in astrocytes, K+ release during hypoosmotic stress is a Ca(2+)-dependent process. Agents that increase intracellular Ca2+, such as ionomycin and ouabain, potentiated hypoosmotically stimulated K+ release, while compounds that block Ca2+ entry during hypoosmotic stress, such as nimodipine, bepridil, and MK- 801, inhibited hypoosmotically stimulated K+ release. Similarly, chelation of intracellular Ca2+ blocked hypoosmotically induced K+ release. Caffeine and U-73122 also inhibited K+ efflux under hypoosmotic conditions, suggesting that intracellular Ca2+ release from Ca(2+)-induced Ca2+ release stores and inositol trisphosphate-sensitive intracellular Ca2+ stores play a role in the mechanism of K+ release. Blocking the activity of calmodulin, and of CaM kinase, attenuated hypoosmotically induced K+ release. Our findings indicate that entry of extracellular Ca2+ and Ca2+ release from intracellular stores play a key role in the activation of K+ release under hypoosmotic conditions and thus in cell volume regulation.