Endothelins modulate not only vasoregulation but also neurotransmission and hormone secretion, specifically vasopressin (AVP) secretion. The present studies were designed to ascertain the site of action and the participation of membrane cation channels mediating endothelin-3-induced AVP release. Experiments were performed using standard and compartmentalized hypothalamo-neurohypophysial explants. The stimulatory action of endothelin-3 on AVP release occurred at the neural lobe, consistent with the failure of sodium channel blockade to decrease AVP secretion. Calcium channel antagonism or chelation of extracellular calcium inhibited neurohormone release, but blockade of calcium mobilization from intracellular stores with 8-(diethyl-amino)octyl 3,4,5-trimethoxybenzoate hydrochloride (TMB-8) did not. Inhibition of the calcium-activated potassium channel with charybdotoxin increased AVP levels dose dependently. Potassium ionophore abolished this response, as did TMB-8, but inhibition of calcium entry failed to do so. A subthreshold dose of charybdotoxin potentiated AVP secretion to submaximal stimulation with endothelin-3 that was prevented only by concomitant blockade of calcium influx and intracellular mobilization. The data support interaction between calcium and potassium channels at the secretory terminal. Collectively, these data are consistent with endothelin-3 receptor activation at the secretory terminal initiating calcium entry, thereby leading to depolarization independent of sodium conductances. This mechanism is opposed by hyperpolarizing forces linked to calcium accumulation, namely, the charybdotoxin-sensitive calcium-activate potassium channel. Interaction of the depolarizing and repolarizing systems enables grade AVP secretion from the neural lobe. These findings do not preclude the participation of other systems as well.