We have demonstrated previously that ethanol increases the in vitro synthesis and release of prolactin by the anterior pituitary gland. In the present study we have examined the possible role of calcium and calmodulin in the ethanol-stimulation of in vitro prolactin release from hemipituitary glands. We also investigated the effect of inhibitors of arachidonic acid metabolism on the release of prolactin induced by ethanol. In addition we studied the effect of ethanol on the release of prostaglandins and the conversion of arachidonic acid to hydroperoxides. Basal and ethanol-stimulated prolactin release was almost blocked completely by omitting calcium from the incubation medium. In vitro addition of calmodulin-blocking agents such as pimozide and trifluoperazine reduced basal and ethanol-induced prolactin release. Acetylsalicylic acid, an inhibitor of the cycloxygenase pathway, had no effect on prolactin release. Nordihydroguaiaretic acid, an inhibitor of the lipoxygenase pathway, blocked completely the release of prolactin induced by ethanol. Ethanol (5 and 10 mM) significantly increased the release of prostaglandin E2 and prostaglandin F2 alpha and the conversion of [14C]arachidonic acid to 5-hydroxyeicosatetraenoic acid. The results of this study show that ethanol increases prolactin release by a calcium-dependent mechanism. Besides, our data suggest that arachidonic acid metabolism is involved in ethanol-stimulated prolactin secretion and that lipoxygenase pathway metabolites are at least partially responsible for this effect.