The role of Ca2+ in the secretion of insulin and glucagon was investigated by studying the effects of Ca2+ ionophores on hormone secretion from isolated perifused islets of Langerhans. Ionophore X537A (100 muM), which binds alkaline earth cations and also complexes some univalent cations, caused a rapid transient increase in insulin and glucagon secretion which was not dependent on the presence of Ca2+ in the perifusion medium. Ionophore A23187 (100 muM), which specifically binds bivalent cations at neutral pH values, similarly increased insulin secretion in complete and Ca2+-free medium, but only stimulated glucagon release in the presence of extracellular Ca2+. Since the stimulatory effects of both ionophores were associated with an increased Ca2+ flux in the islets, these experiments support the hypothesis that Ca2+ may trigger the release of insulin and suggest that it is also involved in the secretion of glucagon. The basal rate of both insulin and glucagon release was significantly increased when Ca2+ was omitted from the perifusion medium, but it is proposed that this finding may be due to adverse effects on cell-membrane function under these conditions.