High-affinity Ca(2+)-activated ATPases that do not show any demonstrable dependence on Mg2+ have been reported in the plasma membranes of different trypanosomatids, and it has been suggested [McLaughlin (1985) Mol. Biochem. Parasitol. 15, 189-201; Ghosh, Ray, Sarkar & Bhaduri (1990) J. Biol. Chem. 265, 11345-11351] that these enzymes may have a role in Ca2+ transport by the plasma membrane and in the regulation of intracellular Ca2+ in these parasites. In this report we investigated Ca2+ transport by Trypanosoma cruzi plasma membrane vesicles using Arsenazo III as a Ca2+ indicator. These vesicles accumulated Ca2+ upon addition of ATP only when Mg2+ was present and released it in response to the Ca2+ ionophore A23187, but were insensitive to inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate. Ca2+ transport was insensitive to antimycin A, oligomycin and carbonyl cyanide p-trifluorophenylhydrazone, ruling out any mitochondrial contamination. Staurosporine and phorbol myristate acetate had no effect on this activity, while low concentrations of vanadate (10 microM) completely inhibited it. In addition, we describe a high-affinity vanadate-sensitive (Ca(2+)-Mg2+)-ATPase in the highly enriched plasma membrane fraction of T. cruzi. Kinetic studies indicated that the apparent Km for free Ca2+ was 0.3 microM. On the other hand, Ca(2+)-ATPase activity and Ca2+ transport were both stimulated by bovine brain calmodulin and by endogenous calmodulin purified from these cells. In addition, trifluoperazine and calmidazolium, at concentrations in the range in which they normally exert anti-calmodulin effects, inhibited the calmodulin-stimulated Ca(2+)-ATPase activity. These observations support the notion that a Mg(2+)-dependent plasma membrane Ca2+ pump is present in these parasites.