Many types of secretory granule have been observed to swelll as a result of cell stimulation implying a degree of osmotic control, although the regulation of granule fusion with the apical plasma membrane is not clearly understood. In the present study we have investigated the ionic and osmotic dependency of basal and stimulated3H-protein release from rat pancreatic acini, permeabilised by either digitonin or high voltage electric discharge. Acini were stimulated with either cholecystokinin-pancreozymin octapeptide (CCK-8), carbachol (CCh), or with phorbol ester (TPA) plus cAMP. Stimulated secretion was significantly reduced when 130 mmol/l Cl- in the buffer was replaced by I-, NO3-, SCN- or cyclamate-. Secretion in Cl- buffers was inhibited by the anion transport inhibitor 4,4-diisothiocyanatostibene-2,2-disulfonic acid (DIDS), by 40% of the control response. Neither Na+ nor N-methyl-d-glucamine- could replace K+ in the buffer. Ba2+ and quinine, which block K+ conductance pathways, inhibited stimulated secretion by 50%. Finally, stimulated secretion from leaky cells was nearly abolished by doubling buffer osmolarity. The data suggest that when the cell is stimulated, a Cl- and a K+ permeability appear in the zymogen granule membrane and the ions enter down their electrochemical gradients. The increased intragranular osmolarity results in granular swelling which is intimately associated with secretion. © 1989 Springer-Verlag.