Planar bilayer lipid membranes formed from trepang phospholipids possess an intrinsic Ca2(+)-permeability. These phospholipids dissolved in a non-polar solvent can extract 45Ca2+ from the aqueous to the organic phase. The triterpenic glycoside holotoxin A isolated from the trepang Stichopus japonicus inhibits the Ca2+ flux of lipid bilayers from trepang phospholipids as well as the Ca2+ flux induced in phosphatidylcholine bilayers by the calcium ionophore X-537A. Toxin inhibits the Ca2+ ionophore A23187 induced Ca2+ efflux from phosphatidylcholine liposomes and 45Ca2+ transition from the aqueous to the organic phase. Holotoxin A does not inhibit the 45Ca2+ transfer to the non-polar phase induced by holoturia phospholipids and does not affect the phosphatidylcholine hydroperoxide-induced Ca2+ flux of lipid bilayers. Using the fluorescent probe pyrene, it was demonstrated that toxin increases the microviscosity of liposomal membranes and trepang oocyte "ghosts".