Calcium channels in neurons mediate a wide variety of essential functions. In addition to contributing to action potential shape, they furnish a substrate that acts as an intracellular second messenger. This study shows that the shape of the neuronal action potential has characteristics that promote long openings of L-type (high threshold) calcium channels. We also present evidence that a change in the firing rate of isolated neurons modulates gating of single calcium channels. This mechanism could be important in modulating neuron excitability and providing a rise in intracellular Ca, when needed. © 1992, The Biophysical Society. All rights reserved.