The neurotoxicity of manganese [Mn] is due in part to glutamate excitotoxicity. Release of ATP by astrocytes is a critical modulator of glutamatergic neurotransmission, which is regulated by calcium (Ca(2+)) waves that propagate through astrocytic networks in response to synaptic activity. It was postulated that Mn alters ATP-dependent intracellular Ca(2+) dynamics in astrocytes, thereby suppressing Ca(2+) wave activity. Confluent primary cultures of cortical astrocytes were loaded with the Ca(2+)-sensitive dye fluo-4 and examined by fluorescence microscopy for Ca(2+) wave activity following micropipet mechanical stimulation of a single cell. Mitochondrial Ca(2+) was evaluated by fluorescence microscopy following addition of ATP using the mitochondrial-specific Ca(2+) dye rhod-2-AM. Imaging studies revealed that pretreatment of astrocytes with 1-10 microM Mn significantly reduced the rate, area, and amplitude of mechanically induced Ca(2+) waves. This attenuation was not a result of inhibited mitochondrial calcium uptake because robust calcium waves were still observed following pretreatment of astrocytes with Ru360, an inhibitor of mitochondrial Ca(2+) uptake, either in coupling or uncoupling conditions. However, determination of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) Ca(2+) levels in cells using the sarco/endoplasmic reticulum Ca(2+)-ATPase inhibitor thapsigargin indicated that Mn reduced the available pool of releasable ER Ca(2+) at concentrations as low as 1 muM. Examination of ATP-stimulated changes in mitochondrial Ca(2+) indicated that, in cells pretreated with Mn, mitochondria retained high levels of Ca(2+). It is concluded that exposure of astrocytes to low concentrations of Mn(2+) results in sequestration of Ca(2+) within the mitochondria that reduces the available pool of releasable Ca(2+) within the ER, thereby inhibiting calcium wave activity.