Mouse mammary C127 cells responded to hypotonic stimulation with activation of the volume-dependent ATP-conductive large conductance (VDACL) anion channel and massive release of ATP. Arachidonic acid downregulated both VDACL currents and swelling-induced ATP release in the physiological concentration range with K(d) of 4- 6 microM. The former effect observed in the whole-cell or excised patch mode was more prominent than the latter effect observed in intact cells. The arachidonate effects were direct and not mediated by downstream metabolic products, as evidenced by their insensitivity to inhibitors of arachidonate-metabolizing oxygenases, and by the observation that they were mimicked by cis-unsaturated fatty acids, which are not substrates for oxygenases. A membrane-impermeable analogue, arachidonyl coenzyme A was effective only from the cytosolic side of membrane patches suggesting that the binding site is localized intracellularly. Non-charged arachidonate analogues as well as trans-unsaturated and saturated fatty acids had no effect on VDACL currents and ATP release, indicating the importance of arachidonate's negative charge and specific hydrocarbon chain conformation in the inhibitory effect. VDACL anion channels were inhibited by arachidonic acid in two different ways: channel shutdown (K(d) of 4- 5 microM) and reduced unitary conductance (K(d) of 13-14 microM) without affecting voltage dependence of open probability. ATP(4-)-conducting inward currents measured in the presence of 100 mM ATP in the bath were reversibly inhibited by arachidonic acid. Thus, we conclude that swelling-induced ATP release and its putative pathway, the VDACL anion channel, are under a negative control by intracellular arachidonic acid signalling in mammary C127 cells.