The Ca2(+)-mobilizing actions of the muscarinic receptor agonist, methacholine (MeCh), and the microsomal Ca2+ pump inhibitor, thapsigargin, were investigated in lacrimal acinar cells. As previously shown for parotid cells (J. Biol. Chem. 264: 12266-12271, 1989), thapsigargin activates both internal Ca2+ release and Ca2+ entry from the extracellular space without increasing cellular inositol phosphates. The inorganic Ca2+ antagonist La3+ inhibited MeCh- or thapsigargin-activated Ca2+ entry. However, when added before MeCh or thapsigargin, La3+ inhibited the extrusion of Ca2+ at the plasma membrane. This phenomenon was exploited in protocols designed to investigate the pathways for filling agonist-sensitive Ca2+ stores in lacrimal cells. The results show that, in contrast to previous suggestions that external Ca2+ is required to replenish agonist-regulated Ca2+ stores, the inhibition of Ca2+ extrusion permits recycling of Ca2+ released by MeCh back into an MeCh- and thapsigargin-sensitive pool. Thus, although extracellular Ca2+ is the major source for refilling the intracellular Ca2+ stores under physiological conditions, the pathway by which this Ca2+ enters the pool need not be a direct one. These results are consistent with the recently revised capacitative model for the refilling of intracellular Ca2+ stores through Ca2+ influx subsequent to Ca2+ depletion, according to which refilling of intracellular Ca2+ stores occurs via a cytoplasmic route rather than a direct channel between intracellular Ca2+ stores and the extracellular space.