Calcium is important in many intracellular regulatory processes. However, the maintenance of low levels of this cation within the cytosol is essential for maintenance of cell viability, in view of the large concentration gradient of ionic calcium across the plasma membrane. The expenditure of energy is needed to maintain intracellular calcium concentration [Ca2+]iat normal levels. In addition, the integrity of the limiting membrane is also vital for this function. Thus, any disruption of membrane characteristics or of mitochondrial anabolic processes may lead to deleterious levels of [Ca2+]i. The toxicity of a wide range of unrelated agents may, therefore, be in part due to elevation of cytosolic calcium. This general event may synergize with the more selective harmful properties of a compound, thus adversely affecting cell metabolism. The capacity now exists to measure levels of [Ca2+]iin isolated cells or organelles such as synaptosomes. The use of such in vitro models can be of value in the evaluation of the neurotoxic potential of compounds. This method, in conjunction with the use of pharmacological agents known to act at specific sites, and with the use of radioactive calcium in translocation studies, also has utility in the delineation of the biochemical mode of action of neurotoxic agents. © 1989.