When exogenous ACh is loaded into the cytoplasm of cultured amphibian myocytes and fibroblasts, the cells undergo spontaneous quantal ACh secretion, as detected by the appearance of pulsatile membrane currents in Xenopus myocytes which are manipulated into contact with the cells. These currents resemble in many ways the miniature endplate currents (MEPCs) observed at developing neuromuscular synapses formed on these Xenopus myocytes. Analyses of the frequency, amplitude, and time course of these currents suggests similarity in the cellular mechanisms involved in the packaging and secretion of ACh quanta in fibroblasts, myocytes, and developing neurons. The size of the ACh packets released by the non-neuronal cells were found to be very similar to the size of the neuronal ACh quanta, which are thought to result from the exocytotic release of synaptic vesicles. Moreover, the kinetics with which the ACh packets are discharged from all three cell types are comparable, although the speed of secretion in non-neuronal cells is somewhat slower and more irregular. The spontaneous quantal ACh secretion from neurons and myocytes was decreased by reducing cytosolic Ca2+ level and enhanced by activation of protein kinase C with phorbol ester, but secretion from fibroblasts was unaffected by both treatments. The spontaneous secretion from fibroblasts did show some sensitivity to a rise in cytosolic Ca2+ after treatment with a Ca2+ ionophore. These observations support the hypothesis that the basic machinery for transmitter secretion operating in neurons derive from a more ubiquitous mechanism used for constitutive secretion and membrane trafficking in non-neuronal cells, and neuronal differentiation involves expression of additional unique components for the regulation of the spontaneous quantal secretion.