Ionic currents from Schwann cells isolated enzymatically from the giant axons of the squids Loligo forbesi, Loligo vulgaris and Loligo bleekeri were compared with those obtained in situ. Macroscopic and single channel ionic currents were recorded using whole-cell voltage and patch clamp. In the whole-cell configuration, depolarisation from negative holding potentials evoked two voltage-dependent currents, an inward current and a delayed outward current. The outward current resembled an outwardly rectifying K+ current and was activated at -40 mV after a latent period of 5-20 ins following a step depolarisation. The current was reduced by externally applied nifedipine, Co2+ or quinine, was not blocked by addition of apamin or charibdotoxin and was insensitive to externally applied L-glutamate or acetylcholine. The voltage-gated inward current was activated at -40 mV and was identified as an L-type calcium current sensitive to externally applied nifedipine. Schwann cells were impaled in situ in split-open axons and voltage clamped using discontinuous single electrode voltage clamp. Voltage dependent outward currents were recorded that were kinetically identical to those seen in isolated cells and that had similar current-voltage relations. Single channel currents were recorded from excised inside-out patches. A single channel type was observed with a reversal potential close to the equilibrium potential for K+ (E-K) and was therefore identified as a K+ channel. The channel conductance was 43.6 pS when both internal and external solutions contained 150 mm K+. Activity was weakly dependent on membrane voltage but sensitive to the internal Ca2+ concentration. Activity was insensitive to externally or internally applied L-glutamate or acetylcholine. The results suggest that calcium channels and calcium-activated K+ channels play an important role in the generation of the squid Schwann cell membrane potential, which may be controlled by the resting intracellular Ca2+ level.