The action of flunarizine on the high-threshold inactivating calcium channel (N-type) in hippocampal neurons of the rat was investigated using the whole-cell voltage clamp technique. Flunarizine reduced the currents at all test potentials, without shifting the peak of the current-voltage relationship along the voltage-axis. The drug did not affect the activation curve, but drastically decreased the slope conductance in the linear region of the current-voltage relationship. Block of the current by flunarizine occurred in a use-dependent way. Flunarizine was without effect when applied intracellulary, and the onset of action, when applied extracellularly, was slow (range of minutes). The Kd for the block by flunarizine obtained after 6 repetitive depolarizations at 0.2 Hz (pulse duration 150 ms) from -90 mV to 0 mV was 0.8 microM. In conclusion, we present electrophysiological evidence that flunarizine blocks the high-threshold inactivating Ca channel of hippocampal neurons of the rat. We discuss the possibility that flunarizine might inhibit neuronal transmitter release by means of this effect.