Membrane capacitance measurements were used to study neuropeptide modulation of exocytosis by perforated patch clamped rat lactotrophs. We report that depolarizing voltage-clamp pulses evoke exocytosis that is steeply dependent on Ca2+ influx through voltage-gated Ca2+ channels. Furthermore, we find that the neuropeptide TRH (thyrotropin- releasing hormone) acts in three phases to promote exocytosis. First, TRH transiently (within approximately 0.5 min) triggers depolarization- and extracellular Ca(2+)-independent exocytosis. Second, within 3 min of application, TRH facilitates depolarization-evoked exocytosis while inhibiting voltage-gated Ca2+ current. Finally, after 8 min, TRH further enhances depolarization-evoked exocytosis by increasing high- voltage-activated (HVA) Ca2+ channel current. Activation of protein kinase C (PKC) with a phorbol ester also stimulates depolarization- evoked exocytosis by increasing Ca2+ current. Therefore, PKC can only account for the last effect of TRH. Thus, a single neuromodulator may employ several temporally distinct mechanisms to stimulate peptide secretion.