The Ca2+-sensitive photoprotein aequorin was used to monitor changes in intracellular [Ca2+] within cultured cells with characteristics of vascular smooth muscle. Two cell lines were investigated: they were A10 cells, which are transformed cells originally derived from rat aorta, and BC3H1 cells obtained from mouse brain neoplasm. Transient increases in intracellular [Ca2+] were induced following exposure to two different volatile anaesthetics (halothane and isoflurane) and various vasoactive substances (acetylcholine, endothelin, histamine, serotonin and vasopressin). The amplitude of the transients induced by isoflurane were more dependent on the presence of extracellular Ca2+ than those induced by halothane, thus the modes and/or locations of action of these two anesthetics are somewhat different. The response of the two cell lines to the vasoactive substances are unique. Receptor activated changes in [Ca2+]i by various agonists were diminished in the presence and absence of either anesthetic. These data suggest that, although the receptor populations within each cell line were slightly different, the prior application of a volatile anesthetic in a clinically-relevant dose induced a transient increase in [Ca2+]i that could subsequently diminish agonist responses.