The events by which [Ca]O modifies diastolic depolarization (DD) were analyzed in sheep cardiac Purkinje fibers perfused in vitro. Cs (2 mM) reduced diastolic depolarization (DD) at different [Ca]O and in 10.8 mM [Ca]O revealed an oscillatory potential (VOS) and the decay of a prolonged depolarization (Vex). In the presence of Cs, procedures that reduce Cai (a slower driving rate, lower [Ca]O or tetrodotoxin) abolished VOS and Vex and partially restored DD. In 10.8 mM [Ca]O and at all driving rates, Cs reduced DD slope, DD amplitude and VOS amplitude but had little effect on the VOS time to peak. In 10.8 mM [Ca]O, decreasing calcium overload by different means (2.6 microM TTX, 0.2 mM Cd) abolished VOS and decreased DD slope and amplitude. Substituting Na with Li induced marked aftercontractions but small VOS. In 10.8 mM [Ca]O, Li increased the amplitude of the aftercontractions and decreased that of VOS. Li also depolarized slightly the resting membrane and abolished the voltage undershoot (Emax) at the end of the action potential. In low [K]O, Li repolarized the resting membrane but the repolarization was maintained only in the presence of Ca. It is concluded that Ca overload causes both VOS and Vex which can either be masked by or can mask DD depending on the magnitude of DD and of Ca overload. VOS is apparently caused by an electrogenic Na-Ca exchange since Li-induced Ca overload increases the aftercontraction but decreases VOS.