The interactions of a photoreactive analogue of benzoylcholine, 4-azido-2,3,5,6-tetrafluorobenzoylcholine (APFBzcholine), with nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) were studied using electrophysiology and photolabeling. APFBzcholine acted as a low-efficacy partial agonist, eliciting maximal responses that were 0.3 and 0.1% of that of acetylcholine for embryonic mouse and Torpedo nAChRs expressed in Xenopus oocytes, respectively. Equilibrium binding studies of [3H]APFBzcholine with nAChR-rich membranes from Torpedo electric organ revealed equal affinities (K(eq) = 12 microM) for the two agonist binding sites. Upon UV irradiation at 254 nm, [3H]APFBzcholine was photoincorporated into the nAChR alpha, gamma, and delta subunits in an agonist-inhibitable manner. Photolabeled amino acids in the agonist binding sites were identified by Edman degradation of isolated, labeled subunit fragments. [3H]APFBzcholine photolabeled gammaLeu-109/deltaLeu-111, gammaTyr-111, and gammaTyr-117 in binding site segment E as well as alphaTyr-198 in alpha subunit binding site segment C. The observed pattern of photolabeling is examined in relation to the predicted orientation of the azide when APFBzcholine is docked in the agonist binding site of a homology model of the nAChR extracellular domain based upon the structure of the snail acetylcholine binding protein.