1. The effects of the IP(3)-receptor antagonist 2-aminoethyldiphenyl borate (2-APB) on the Ca(2+) release-activated Ca(2+) current (I(CRAC)) in Jurkat human T cells, DT40 chicken B cells and rat basophilic leukaemia (RBL) cells were examined. 2. 2-APB elicited both stimulatory and inhibitory effects on Ca(2+) influx through CRAC channels. At concentrations of 1-5 microM, 2-APB enhanced Ca(2+) entry in intact cells and increased I(CRAC) amplitude by up to fivefold. At levels > or = 10 microM, 2-APB caused a transient enhancement of I(CRAC) followed by inhibition. 3. 2-APB altered the kinetics of fast Ca(2+)-dependent inactivation of I(CRAC). At concentrations of 1-5 microM, 2-APB increased the rate of fast inactivation. In contrast, 2-APB at higher concentrations (> or = 10 microM) reduced or completely blocked inactivation. 4. 2-APB inhibited Ca(2+) efflux from mitochondria. 5. 2-APB inhibited I(CRAC) more potently when applied extracellularly than intracellularly. Furthermore, increased protonation of 2-APB at low pH did not affect potentiation or inhibition. Thus, 2-APB may have an extracellular site of action. 6. Neither I(CRAC) activation by passive store depletion nor the effects of 2-APB were altered by intracellular dialysis with 500 microg ml(-1) heparin. 7. I(CRAC) is present in wild-type as well as mutant DT40 B cells lacking all three IP(3) receptor isoforms. 2-APB also potentiates and inhibits I(CRAC) in both cell types, indicating that 2-APB exerts its effects independently of IP(3) receptors. 8. Our results show that CRAC channel activation does not require physical interaction with IP(3) receptors as proposed in the conformational coupling model. Potentiation of I(CRAC) by 2-APB may be a useful diagnostic feature for positive identification of putative CRAC channel genes, and provides a novel tool for exploring the physiological functions of store-operated channels.