The calcium content and transport processes of Plasmodium chabaudi- infected rat erythrocytes were analyzed by atomic absorption spectroscopy and 45Ca2+ flux measurements. Infected erythrocytes, after fractionation on metrizamide gradients according to stage of parasite development, exhibited progressively increasing levels of Ca2+ with schizont and gametocytes containing 10- to 20-fold greater calcium levels than normal cells (0.54 +/- 0.25 nmol/10(8) cells). 45Ca2+ flux experiments showed both increased influx and decreased efflux in infected erythrocytes. Tris/NH4Cl lysis of normal erythrocytes preloaded with 45Ca2+ with the Ca2+ ionophore A23187 released less than 90% of cell calcium after incubation in ethyleneglycol bis(aminoethylether) N,N'-tetraacetic acid containing buffer, whereas lysis of the infected erythrocyte membrane resulted in release of 10- 20% cell Ca2+, with the remaining portion associated with the isolated parasite fraction. This information together with the effects of various metabolic inhibitors indicates the presence of a parasite Ca2+ compartment in P. chabaudi-infected erythrocytes. Dicyclohexylcarbodiimide (DCCD) an inhibitor of proton ATPases of chloroplasts, bacteria, yeast, and mitochondria, and the proton ionophore, carbonyl cyanide m-chlorophenylhydrazone (CCCP), inhibited Ca2+ influx and stimulated efflux from infected cells. These results combined with evidence for a DCCD- and CCCP-sensitive membrane potential in P. chabaudi-infected cells (Mikkelsen et al., accompanying manuscript) suggest that Ca2+ transport of intraerythrocytic parasites is coupled to a proton-motive force across the Plasmodia plasma membrane.