The effect of various blockers of voltage operated calcium channels (VOCCs) was studied on the non-inactivating, plateau phase of KCl-induced intracellular free Ca2+ ([Ca2+]i) elevation in rat cortical and chicken forebrain synaptosomes. In chicken synaptosomes, omega-CgTx GVIA (0.1 nM to 1 microM) and omega-CgTx MVIIA (0.1 nM to 1 microM), both selective blockers of N-type Ca2+ channels, produced a concentration-dependent inhibition of the plateau phase of [Ca2+]i elevation. omega-CgTx GVIA (IC50 value 28 nM) was more potent than omega-CgTx MVIIA (IC50 value 78 nM), but at submaximal concentrations, took longer to reach its maximum effect (20 min for omega-CgTx GVIA; 10 min for omega-CgTx MVIIA). At 1 microM, the highest concentration tested, each toxin blocked > 85% of [Ca2+]i elevation. The effect of omega-CgTx GVIA on the extent and time-course of inhibition of [Ca2+]i elevation was maintained in a Na(+)-free, choline substituted, medium. omega-Aga IVA (300 nM), a selective blocker of P-type calcium channels, inhibited 28 +/- 5% of [Ca2+]i elevation. The effect of a combination of submaximal inhibitory concentrations of omega-CgTx GVIA (100 nM) and omega-Aga IVA (300 nM) was less than additive. In rat synaptosomes, omega-CgTx GVIA (1 microM) and omega-CgTx MVIIA (1 microM), blocked only 18 +/- 5% and 17 +/- 4% of the plateau phase of free Ca2+ elevation, respectively. omega-Aga IVA produced a concentration-dependent inhibition of [Ca2+]i elevation in this preparation. Threshold inhibition was observed at 1 nM, and maximum inhibition (64 +/- 8%) at 1 microM.