1. The whole-cell voltage clamp technique was used to record calcium currents in the somatic membrane of rat cultured dorsal root ganglion neurones. 2. Neurones were enzymatically isolated from animals of three age groups (neonatal, 2-7 days; adult, 7 months; and old, 30 months) and maintained in primary culture 3-14 days. 3. The neurones isolated from neonatal and old rats showed two distinct types of Ca2+ currents, a low-threshold transient current and a high-threshold sustained current, whereas neurones from old rats showed only a high-threshold calcium current. 4. The density of the high-threshold calcium current was 28.4 +/- 6.3 pA/pF (mean +/- S.E.M., n = 54) in neonatal, 39.1 +/- 7.2 pA/pF (n = 62) in adult and 11.0 +/- 4.6 pA/pF (n = 64) in old dorsal root ganglion neurones. 5. We found no difference in elementary high-threshold Ca2+ current characteristics in neurones from different age groups. The single-channel conductance was (with 60 mM Ca2+ in the recording pipette) 16.0 +/- 2.7 pS (mean +/- S.E.M., n = 9) in neonatal, 16.2 +/- 1.7 pS (n = 11) in adult and 16.4 +/- 1.2 pS (n = 12) in old neurones. 6. Current-voltage relations and kinetics of high-threshold calcium currents showed no detectable age-dependent difference. 7. The run-down of high-threshold calcium currents in dorsal root ganglion neurones from old rats was practically insensitive to intracellular administration of cyclic AMP and ATP. The same intervention caused a significant deceleration of Ca2+ current run-down in the majority of neonatal and in some adult cells. 8. We suggest that the disappearance of the low-threshold calcium current and reduction of high-threshold calcium current with ageing is due to a depression of calcium channel expression during late ontogenesis. The decrease of sensitivity of high-threshold calcium channels to phosphorylation by cyclic AMP-dependent protein kinase in aged neurones could also be a reason for altered turnover between silent and functional pools of calcium channels, which may underlie the age-dependent decline in the density of high-threshold calcium channels.