Dantrolene is an inhibitor of intracellular Ca2+ release from skeletal muscle SR (sarcoplasmic reticulum). Direct photoaffinity labelling experiments using [3H]azidodantrolene and synthetic domain peptides have demonstrated that this drug targets amino acids 590-609 [termed DP1 (domain peptide 1)] of RyR1 (ryanodine receptor 1), the skeletal muscle RyR isoform. Although the identical sequence exists in the cardiac isoform, RyR2 (residues 601-620), specific labelling of RyR2 by dantrolene has not been demonstrated, even though some functional studies show protective effects of dantrolene on heart function. Here we test whether dantrolene-active domains exist within RyR2 and if so, whether this domain can be modulated. We show that elongated DP1 sequences from RyR1 (DP1-2s; residues 590-628) and RyR2 (DP1-2c; residues 601-639) can be specifically photolabelled by [3H]azidodantrolene. Monoclonal anti-RyR1 antibody, whose epitope is the DP1 region, can recognize RyR1 but not RyR2 in Western blot and immunoprecipitation assays, yet it recognizes both DP1-2c and DP1-2s. This suggests that although the RyR2 sequence has an intrinsic capacity to bind dantrolene in vitro, this site may be poorly accessible in the native channel protein. To examine whether it is possible to modulate this site, we measured binding of [3H]dantrolene to cardiac SR as a function of free Ca2+. We found that > or =10 mM EGTA increased [3H]dantrolene binding to RyR2 by approximately 2-fold. The data suggest that the dantrolene-binding site on RyR2 is conformationally sensitive. This site may be a potential therapeutic target in cardiovascular diseases sensitive to dysfunctional intracellular Ca2+ release.