Calcium influx into cultured retinal amacrine cells is followed by a small, slow, inward current that we show here results from the operation of electrogenic Na-Ca exchange. The activity of the exchanger is shown to correlate with the magnitude of the Ca2+ load and to depend on both the Ca2+ and Na+ gradients. Li+ is unable to substitute for Na+ and in the absence of Na+, slow tail currents are almost entirely suppressed. A rapid change in [K+]o does not affect the activity of the exchanger, suggesting that only Na+ and Ca2+ are transported. The ratio of charge entering as Ca2+ current to the charge entering as exchange current is highly variable between cells. We suggest that variability results from a variable fraction of Ca2+ load, we estimate typically 40%, being removed by a process other than Na-Ca exchange. This process is likely to involve internal buffering or sequestration since inhibition of the plasmalemmal Ca(2+)-ATPase does not increase the fraction of Ca2+ expelled by the exchanger. Ca2+ loading performed in the absence of Na+o generates smaller exchange charge the longer the delay in returning Na+o to the neuron. About 30% of exchange charge is lost for a delay of 1 sec.