Disturbances in acid-base balance in vivo are associated with changes in plasma aldosterone concentration, and in vitro changes in extracellular pH (pH(o)) influence the secretion of aldosterone by adrenocortical tissue or glomerulosa cells. There is considerable disparity, however, as to the direction of the effect. Furthermore, the mechanisms by which pH(o) independently affects aldosterone secretion or interacts with other secretagogues are not defined. Thus, bovine glomerulosa cells maintained in primary monolayer culture were used to examine the direct effects of pH(o) on cytosolic free calcium concentration ([Ca(2+)](i))( )and aldosterone secretion under basal and angiotensin II (AngII)-stimulated conditions. pH(o) was varied from 7.0 to 7.8 (corresponding inversely to changes in extracellular H(+) concentration from 16 nM to 100 nM). Whereas an elevation of pH(o) from 7.4 to 7.8 had no consistent effect, reductions of pH(o) from 7.4 to 7.2 or 7.0 caused proportionate increases in aldosterone secretion that were accompanied by increases in transmembrane Ca(2+) fluxes and [Ca(2+)](i). These effects were abolished by removal of extracellular Ca(2+). A decrease in pH(o) from 7.4 to 7.0 also enhanced AngII-stimulated aldosterone secretion. This effect was more pronounced at low concentrations of AngII and was manifested as an increase in the magnitude of the secretory response with no effect on potency. In contrast to its effect on AngII-stimulated aldosterone secretion, a reduction of pH(o) from 7.4 to 7.0 inhibited the Ca(2+) signal elicited by low concentrations (</=1x10(-10) M) of AngII, but did not affect the increase in [Ca(2+)](i) caused by a maximal concentration (1x10(-8) M) of AngII. These data suggest that pH(o) (i.e. H(+)) has multiple effects on aldosterone secretion. It independently increases aldosterone secretion through a mechanism involving Ca(2+) influx and an increase in [Ca(2+)](i). Also, it modulates the action of AngII by both decreasing the magnitude of the AngII-stimulated Ca(2+) signal and increasing the sensitivity of a more distal site to intracellular Ca(2+). The latter action appears to be a more important determinant in the effects of pH(o) on AngII-stimulated aldosterone secretion.