Cyclic ADP-ribose (cADPR) is emerging as an endogenous regulator of Ca2+-induced Ca2+ release (CICR), and we have recently demonstrated that its action is mediated by calmodulin (CAM) (Lee, H. C., Aarhus, R., Graeff, R., Gurnack, M. E., and Walseth, T. F. (1994) Nature 370, 307-309). In this study we show by immunoblot analyses that the protein factor in sea urchin eggs responsible for conferring cADPR sensitivity to egg microsomes was CaM. This was further supported by the fact that bovine CaM was equally effective as the egg factor. In contrast, plant CaM was only partially active even at 10-20-fold higher concentrations. This exquisite specificity was also shown by binding studies using 125I-labeled bovine CaM. The effectiveness of various CaMs (bovine > spinach > wheat gem) in competing for the binding sites was identical to their potency in conferring cADPR sensitivity to the microsomes. A comparison between bovine and wheat gem CaM in competing for the sites suggests only 10-14% of the total binding was crucial for the activity. Depending on the CaM concentration, the sensitivity of the microsomes to cADPR could be changed by several orders of magnitude. The requirement for CaM could be alleviated by raising the divalent cation concentration with Sr2+. Results showed that CaM, cADPR, and caffeine all act synergistically to increase the divalent cation sensitivity of the CICR mechanism. The combined action of any of the three agonists was sufficient to sensitize the mechanism so much that even the nanomolar concentration of ambient Ca2+ was enough to activate the release. Unlike the CICR mechanism, the microsomal inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate-sensitive Ca2+ release showed no dependence on CaM. Using an antagonist of CaM, W7, it was demonstrated that the cADPR- but not the inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate-dependent release mechanism could be blocked in live sea urchin eggs. These results indicate cADPR can function as a physiological modulator of CICR and, together with CaM, can alter the sensitivity of the release mechanism to divalent cation by several orders of magnitude.