The HIV envelope glycoprotein, GP120, increases intracellular Ca2+ concentration and induces degeneration of human and animal neurons in culture. Using patch-clamp recordings and Ca2+ imaging techniques, we have now examined the contribution of intracellular stores of calcium in the effects of GP120. We report that in rat hippocampal neuronal cultures, GP120 induces a dramatic and persistent increase in [Ca2+]i which is prevented by drugs that either deplete (caffeine, carbachol, thapsigargin) or block (dantrolene) Ca2+ release from intracellular stores. In contrast, N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptors or voltage-dependent calcium channels do not participate in these effects, as: (i) the increase in [Ca2+]i was not affected by NMDA receptor antagonists or calcium channel blockers; and (ii) and GP120 did not generate any current in whole-cell recording. Dantrolene, a ryanodine stores inhibitor, also prevented neuronal death induced by GP120. Our results show that the GP120-induced rise in [Ca2+]i originates from intracellular calcium stores, and suggest that intracellular stores of calcium may play a determinant role in the pathological actions of GP120.