The amino (N)-terminal and central regions of the ryanodine receptor (RyR) containing most mutation sites of malignant hyperthermia (MH) and central core disease (CCD) seem to be involved in the Ca(2+) channel regulation. Our recent peptide probe study (Yamamoto, T., El-Hayek, R., and Ikemoto, N. (2000) J. Biol. Chem. 275, 11618-11625) suggested the hypothesis that a close contact between the N-terminal and central domains (zipping) stabilizes the closed-state of the channel, while removal of the contact (unzipping) deblocks the channel, causing channel-activation effects. We here report the results of our recent effort to monitor local conformational changes in the putative domain-domain interaction site to test this hypothesis. The conformation-sensitive fluorescence probe, methyl coumarin acetamide (MCA), was incorporated into RyR in a protein- and site-specific manner by using DP4 (the peptide corresponding to the Leu(2442)-Pro(2477) region of the central domain) as a site-directing carrier. The site of MCA labeling was localized in the 150 kDa N-terminal region of RyR, indicating that DP4 and its in vivo counterpart (a portion of the central domain) interact with the N-terminal region. RyR-activating domain peptides, DP4 and DP1 (corresponding to the Leu(590)-Cys(609) region of the N-terminal domain), and depolarization of the T-tubule moiety of the triad (physiologic stimulation) induced a rapid decrease in the fluorescence intensity of the protein-bound MCA and Ca(2+) release at a somewhat slower rate. The accessibility of the protein-bound MCA to the fluorescence quencher was increased in the presence of DP4. These results are all consistent with the above hypothesis.