The relationship between intracellular lysosomal rupture and cell death caused by silica was studied in P388d(1) macrophages. After 3 h of exposure to 150 μg silica in medium containing 1.8 mM Ca(2+), 60 percent of the cells were unable to exclude trypan blue. In the absence of extracellular Ca(2+), however, all of the cells remained viable. Phagocytosis of silica particles occurred to the same extent in the presence or absence of Ca(2+). The percentage of P388D(1) cells killed by silica depended on the dose and the concentration of Ca(2+) in the medium. Intracellular lyosomal rupture after exposure to silica was measured by acridine orange fluorescence or histochemical assay of horseradish peroxidase. With either assay, 60 percent of the cells exposed to 150 μg silica for 3 h in the presence of Ca(2+) showed intracellular lysosomal rupture, was not associated with measureable degradation of total DNA, RNA, protein, or phospholipids or accelerated turnover of exogenous horseradish peroxidase. Pretreatment with promethazine (20 μg/ml) protected 80 percent of P388D(1) macrophages against silica toxicity although lysosomal rupture occurred in 60-70 percent of the cells. Intracellular lysosomal rupture was prevented in 80 percent of the cells by pretreatment with indomethacin (5 x 10(-5)M), yet 40-50 percent of the cells died after 3 h of exposure to 150 μg silica in 1.8 mM extracellular Ca(2+). The calcium ionophore A23187 also caused intracellular lysosomal rupture in 90-98 percent of the cells treated for 1 h in either the presence or absence of extracellular Ca(2+). With the addition of 1.8 mM Ca(2+), 80 percent of the cells was killed after 3 h, whereas all of the cells remained viable in the absence of Ca(2+). These experiments suggest that intracellular lysosomal rupture is not causally related to the cell death cause by silica or A23187. Cell death is dependent on extracellular Ca(2+) and may be mediated by an influx of these ions across the plasma membrane permeability barrier damaged directly by exposure to these toxins.