Incubation of cultured bovine adrenal medullary cells with p-chloromercuribenzoate (50-500 microM), a sulfhydryl-reacting agent, caused an increase in the secretion of catecholamines, p-Chloromercuriphenyl sulfonate, a p-chloromercuribenzoate analogue that poorly penetrates the cell membrane, caused a similar increase in catecholamine secretion. In both cases, catecholamine secretion was dependent on extracellular Ca2+. Furthermore, p-chloromercuribenzoate caused both 45Ca2+ influx into the cells and an increase in the intracellular free Ca2+ concentration. The increases in catecholamine secretion and 45Ca2+ influx behaved similarly in relation to p-chloromercuribenzoate concentration. The time courses of the increased secretion, 45Ca2+ influx, and intracellular free Ca2+ concentration by p-chloromercuribenzoate were also quite similar. The stimulation of catecholamine secretion by p-chloromercuribenzoate was reversed by washing the cells with dithiothreitol-containing medium, but not by dithiothreitol-free medium. When the cells were treated with p-chloromercuribenzoate, dopamine-beta-hydroxylase, an enzyme present in the chromaffin granules along with catecholamines, was also released. However, p-chloromercuribenzoate did not cause release of phenylethanolamine-N-methyltransferase, an enzyme present in the cytoplasm. These results indicate that catecholamine secretion due to p-chloromercuribenzoate occurs by Ca2+-dependent exocytosis.