A variety of monocyte/neutrophil adhesive functions is coordinated by the CD11b/CD18 complex, a leukocyte-restricted member of integrin receptors. Previous studies have shown that the adenine nucleotide ADP produces a transient and high affinity recognition state of CD11b/CD18 for its complementary ligands fibrinogen and factor X. We have now characterized the process of intracellular signalling initiated in monocytes by ADP. Further, we have causally related these events to the qualitative upregulation of CD11b/CD18, as exemplified by its inducible binding of factor X. Micromolar concentrations of ADP or ATP produce dose-dependent increase in monocyte cytosolic free [Ca2+]i through mobilization from intracellular stores coupled with a sustained, EGTA-sensitive, influx of Ca2+ from the external compartment. This Ca2+ response was kinetically and quantitatively heterogeneous when analyzed at the single cell level. Ca2+ channel antagonists nifedipine or verapamil blocked the sustained phase of ADP-induced Ca2+ entry and inhibited 125I-factor X binding to CD11b/CD18 in a dose-dependent manner. Nifedipine-sensitive Ca2+ channels are gated by variations in transmembrane potential in a variety of cells. In monocytes, depolarizing conditions by high external [K+] or by the Na+ ionophore gramicidin D mimicked the stimulatory effect of ADP, inducing increased cytosolic free [Ca2+]i and 125I-factor X binding to CD11b/CD18. In contrast, these responses were both abrogated by hyperpolarization with the K+ ionophore valinomycin. These data suggest that a sustained increase in monocyte cytosolic free [Ca2+]i coupled with variations in transmembrane potential regulate the high affinity receptor function of CD11b/CD18. Although prototypically exemplified for monocyte stimulation with adenine nucleotides, this pathway of intracellular signalling might provide a general mechanism for transient and qualitative functional upregulation of integrin receptors.