Calcium is a universal second messenger. The temporal and spatial information that is encoded in Ca(2+)-transients drives processes as diverse as neurotransmitter secretion, axonal outgrowth, immune responses and muscle contraction. Ca(2+)-release from intracellular Ca(2+) stores can be triggered by diffusible second messengers like Ins P (3), cyclic ADP-ribose or nicotinic acid-adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NAADP). A target has not yet been identified for the latter messenger. In the present study we show that nanomolar concentrations of NAADP trigger Ca(2+)-release from skeletal muscle sarcoplasmic reticulum. This was due to a direct action on the Ca(2+)-release channel/ryanodine receptor type-1, since in single channel recordings, NAADP increased the open probability of the purified channel protein. The effects of NAADP on Ca(2+)-release and open probability of the ryanodine receptor occurred over a similar concentration range (EC(50) approximately 30 nM) and were specific because (i) they were blocked by Ruthenium Red and ryanodine, (ii) the precursor of NAADP, NADP, was ineffective at equimolar concentrations, (iii) NAADP did not affect the conductance and reversal potential of the ryanodine receptor. Finally, we also detected an ADP-ribosyl cyclase activity in the sarcoplasmic reticulum fraction of skeletal muscle. This enzyme was not only capable of synthesizing cyclic GDP-ribose but also NAADP, with an activity of 0.25 nmol/mg/min. Thus, we conclude that NAADP is generated in the vicinity of type 1 ryanodine receptor and leads to activation of this ion channel.