The effects of various neurotransmitters on phosphoinositide hydrolysis, mobilization of Ca2+ and release of [3H]-norepinephrine ([3H]-NE) were studied in cultures of sympathetic neurons of chick embryos. [3H]-inositol-1,4,5-triphosphate ([3H]-IP3) was increased in sympathetic neurons by acetylcholine (ACh), muscarine and serotonin (5-HT). Dopamine and norepinephrine did not stimulate phosphoinositide hydrolysis. Intracellular concentration of free Ca2+ ([Ca2+]i) was measured in Indo-1-loaded sympathetic neurons at rest and after addition of test agents. Measurements were made in the cell body and growth cone regions since Ca2+ mobilization is known to be different in different regions of the sympathetic neurons. ACh (nicotinic component was blocked by hexamethonium) and 5-HT failed to increase the [Ca2+]i, in the cell body as well as in the growth cone. The spontaneous release of [3H]-NE was not affected by ACh and 5-HT. Caffeine increased the [Ca2+]i only in the cell body but not in the growth cone and had no effect on the release of [3H]-NE. These results suggest that an IP3-insensitive but caffeine-sensitive pool of Ca2+ is present only in the somatic region of sympathetic neurons and is not coupled to the transmitter release.