The bag cell neurons of Aplysia provide a model system in which to investigate the effects of hyperosmolality on the electrical and secretory properties of neurons. Brief stimulation of these neurons triggers an afterdischarge of action potentials that lasts approximately 20-30 min, during which time they release several neuroactive peptides. We have found that pre-incubation of intact clusters of bag cell neurons in hyperosmotic media prior to stimulation prevents the initiation of afterdischarges. Furthermore, an increase in osmolality of the external medium during an ongoing afterdischarge causes its premature termination. Hyperosmotic media attenuate the release of peptide evoked by both electrically stimulated afterdischarges and potassium-induced depolarization. The ability of high potassium to depolarize the bag cell neurons is, however, not impaired. Exposure of isolated bag cell neurons to hyperosmotic media also inhibits the amplitude of action potentials evoked by depolarizing current injection and attenuates the voltage-dependent calcium current. In isolated bag cell neurons loaded with the calcium indicator dye, fura-2, hyperosmotic media reduced the rise in intracellular calcium levels that normally occurs in response to depolarization. Our results suggest that the effects of hyperosmotic media on peptide secretion in bag cell neurons can largely be attributed to their effects on calcium entry.