We have used Ca2+-sensitive fluorescent dyes to monitor intracellular Ca2+ during mitosis in one-cell mouse embryos. We find that fertilized embryos generate Ca2+ transients at nuclear envelope breakdown (NEBD) and during mitosis. In addition, fertilized embryos arrested in metaphase using colcemid continue to generate Ca2+ transients. In contrast, parthenogenetic embryos produced by a 2-h exposure to strontium containing medium do not generate detectable Ca2+ transients at NEBD or in mitosis. However, when parthenogenetic embryos are cultured continuously in strontium containing medium Ca2+ transients are detected in mitosis but not in interphase. This suggests that mitotic Ca2+ transients are detected in the presence of an appropriate stimulus such as fertilization or strontium. The Ca2+ transient detected in fertilized embryos is not necessary for inducing NEBD since parthenogenetic embryos undergo nuclear envelope breakdown (NEBD). Also the first sign that NEBD is imminent occurs several minutes before the Ca2+ transient. The Ca2+ transient at NEBD appears to be associated with the nucleus since nuclear transfer experiments show that the presence of a karyoplast from a fertilized embryo is essential. Finally, we show that the intracellular Ca2+ chelator Bapta inhibits NEBD in fertilized and parthenogenetic embryos in a dose-dependent manner. These studies show that during mitosis there is an endogenous increase in Ca2+ releasing activity that leads to the generation of Ca2+ transients specifically during mitosis. The ability of Ca2+ buffers to inhibit NEBD regardless of the presence of global Ca2+ transients suggests that the underlying cell cycle-associated Ca2+ releasing activity may take the form of localized Ca2+ transients.