- Response properties of neurons in brain slices of guinea pig parietal neocortex were examined following intracellular injection of the Ca2+ chelators, EGTA and BAPTA. Although chelator injection did not cause any consistent change in passive membrane properties, it did induce 81% of neurons encountered at all sub-pial depths to become 'bursters', in that just-threshold depolarizing current pulses triggered all-or-none bursts of 2 - 5 fast action potentials. Transition to 'burstiness' was associated with disappearance of an AHP and appearance of a DAP. Although chelator caused a slight increase in steady-state firing rate, marked accommodation persisted. Extracellular Co2+ or Mn2+ had an effect on steady-state firing rate similar to that of the intracellular chelators; however, exposure to these Ca2+ channel blockers also caused steady state depolarization, increased resting input resistance and time constant, and profound spike broadening. This treatment never induced transition to 'burstiness'. Chelator-injected neurons ceased to generate bursts when Ca2+ was replaced by Mn2+ in the Ringer's solution. During exposure to 10-6 M TTX and 20 mM TEA, 50 - 200 msec Ca2+ spikes followed brief depolarizing pulses. As chelator was injected into the cell, there was progressive prolongation of the Ca2+ plateaus, which was associated with slowing of the rate at which membrane resistance gradually recovered following the initial increase in conductance. These findings indicate that under normal conditions, activity-related increases in intracellular Ca2+ activate processes which prevent most neocortical neurons from being bursters. These processes probably include Ca2+-dependent K+ currents, and Ca2+-dependent Ca2+ channel inactivation.