We have compared the effect of calcium channel blockers on the potassium-evoked release of tritium-labeled acetylcholine and on preganglionic spike-evoked synaptic transmission in the rat superior cervical ganglion. Transmitter release at the nerve terminals is mediated by the influx of calcium through voltage-gated calcium channels. While four types of voltage-gated calcium channels (T, L, N and P) have been identified in neurons, it is not clear which may actually be involved in excitation-secretion coupling. Release of tritiated acetylcholine evoked by sustained depolarization in high (40 mM) extracellular potassium decreased markedly in the absence of calcium or the presence of cadmium. High potassium-evoked release was substantially inhibited by the P-type channel blockers, purified from funnel-web spider toxin, and omega-agatoxin-IVA, and by the N-type channel blocker omega-conotoxin-GVIA, but was unaffected by the L-type channel blocker nitrendipine. In contrast, postganglionic compound action potentials synaptically triggered by preganglionic stimulation were strongly blocked by funnel-web spider toxin and slightly blocked by a high concentration of omega-agatoxin-IVA, but were unaffected by either omega-conotoxin-GVIA, nitrendipine or a low concentration of omega-agatoxin-IVA. Thus, at the superior cervical ganglion, funnel-web spider toxin-sensitive calcium channels play a dominant role in transmitter release evoked by transient, spike-mediated depolarization, but other types of voltage-gated calcium channels in addition to the funnel-web spider toxin-sensitive channel mediate the transmitter release that is evoked by sustained high potassium depolarization.