Roscovitine is widely used for inhibition of cdk5, a cyclin-depenpent kinase expressed predominantly in the brain. A novel function of roscovitine, i.e. an effect on Ca2+ channels and transmitter release in central neurons, was studied by whole-cell voltage-clamp recordings and time-lapse fluorescence imaging techniques. Extracellular application of roscovitine markedly enhanced the tail calcium current following repolarization from depolarized voltages. This effect was rapid, reversible and dose dependent. Roscovitine dramatically slowed the deactivation kinetics of calcium channels. The deactivation time constant was increased 3- to 6-fold, suggesting that roscovitine could prolong the channel open state and increase the calcium influx. The potentiation of tail calcium currents caused by roscovitine and by the L-channel activator Bay K 8644 was not occluded but additive. Roscovitine-induced potentiation of tail calcium currents was significantly blocked by the P/Q-channel blocker CgTx-MVIIC, indicating that the major target of roscovitine is the P/Q-type calcium channel. In mutant mice with targeted deletion of p35, a neuronal specific activator of cdk5, roscovitine regulated calcium currents in a manner similar to that observed in wild-type mice. Moreover, intracellular perfusion of roscovitine failed to modulate calcium currents. These results suggest that roscovitine acts on extracellular site(s) of calcium channels via a cdk5-independent mechanism. Roscovitine potentiated glutamate release at presynaptic terminals of cultured hippocampal neurons detected with the vesicle trafficking dye FM1-43, consistent with the positive effect of roscovitine on the P/Q-type calcium channel, the major mediator of action potential-evoked transmitter release in the mammalian CNS.