We analyzed the role of inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate-induced Ca(2+) release from the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) (i) in powering mitochondrial Ca(2+) uptake and (ii) in maintaining a sustained elevation of cytosolic Ca(2+) concentration ([Ca(2+)](c)). For this purpose, we expressed in HeLa cells aequorin-based Ca(2+)-sensitive probes targeted to different intracellular compartments and studied the effect of two agonists histamine, acting on endogenous H(1) receptors, and glutamate, acting on co-transfected metabotropic glutamate receptor (mGluR1a), which rapidly inactivates through protein kinase C-dependent phosphorylation and thus causes transient inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate production. Glutamate induced a transient [Ca(2+)](c) rise and drop in ER luminal [Ca(2+)] ([Ca(2+)](er)), and then the ER refilled with [Ca(2+)](c) at resting values. With histamine, [Ca(2+)](c) after the initial peak stabilized at a sustained plateau, and [Ca(2+)](er) decreased to a low steady-state value. In mitochondria, histamine evoked a much larger mitochondrial Ca(2+) response than glutamate ( approximately 15 versus approximately 65 microm). Protein kinase C inhibition, partly relieving mGluR1a desensitization, reestablished both the [Ca(2+)](c) plateau and the sustained ER Ca(2+) release and markedly increased the mitochondrial Ca(2+) response. Conversely, mitochondrial Ca(2+) uptake evoked by histamine was drastically reduced by very transient ( approximately 2-s) agonist applications. These data indicate that efficient mitochondrial Ca(2+) uptake depends on the preservation of high Ca(2+) microdomains at the mouth of ER Ca(2+) release sites close to mitochondria. This in turn depends on continuous Ca(2+) release balanced by Ca(2+) reuptake into the ER and maintained by Ca(2+) influx from the extracellular space.