We have used GH3 cells permeabilized by electric field discharge to examine the effects of Ca2+ and protein kinase C activators (phorbol ester and diacylglycerol) on prolactin (PRL) release. Ca2+ was found to stimulate PRL release approximately 4 fold at 3 microM Ca2+ with a half-maximal response at approximately .5 microM estimated free Ca2+. 12-O-tetradecanoyl phorbol-13-acetate and 1-oleoyl-2-acetyl-sn-glycerol stimulated PRL release throughout a range of Ca2+ concentrations (1 nM -3 microM), but stimulation was greater at higher Ca2+ concentrations (.1 microM to 1 microM). Both agents decreased by 1.8 fold the apparent [Ca2+] at which half-maximal stimulation of secretion occurred. Quin 2 was used to measure the free [Ca2+] of intact and permeable cells; PRL secretion at a free [Ca2+] corresponding to resting cytoplasmic [Ca2+] was 10% of maximal, while secretion at the [Ca2+] corresponding to the Ca2+ spike induced by thyrotropin-releasing hormone was approximately 25% of maximal.