Elements of stimulus-secretion coupling were studied in human pancreatic acinar cells by using tissue samples obtained from cadaver organ donors. In pancreatic fragments, acetylcholine evoked amylase secretion as well as potassium release and increased the outflux of 45Ca and 86Rb from the prelabeled tissue. In patches of basolateral plasma membrane excised from acinar cell clusters, single-channel potassium currents were recorded. The inside of the plasma membrane faced the bath solution, allowing the effects of changes in the free ionized calcium concentration in contact with the membrane interior to be tested. Two types of calcium-activated potassium-selective channels were found with unit conductances of about 250 and 50 picosiemens (pS), respectively. In both cases channel opening was determined by the electrical potential difference across the plasma membrane and the free ionized calcium concentration in the bath solution. The probability of channel opening was markedly increased by elevation of the free ionized calcium concentration in contact with the membrane inside. The results suggest that the acetylcholine-evoked cellular potassium release occurs via selective membrane potassium channels opened by calcium released intracellularly after the action of the secretagogue.