1. The effects of introducing the non-hydrolysable GTP analogue guanosine 5'-O-(3-thiotriphosphate) (GTP gamma S) into perfused bovine chromaffin cells were studied by a combination of the tight-seal whole-cell patch-clamp technique and Fura-2 fluorescence [Ca2+]i measurements. 2. GTP gamma S (5-300 microM) induced a slowly developing transient current (inwardly directed at the holding potential -60 to -70 mV) and [Ca2+]i oscillations. The current activated with a 10-50 s delay after the start of whole-cell dialysis, peaked at 70-120 s and decayed almost to its initial level during the next 150-300 s. Calcium oscillations were observed within the first 100-150 s of cell perfusion. 3. GTP competitively lowered the probability of current activation by GTP gamma S. At low GTP gamma S/GTP ratio (5 and 300 microM, respectively) activation of the current was observed only rarely. 4. The activation of the current was accompanied by an increase in conductance but not by changes in the current reversal potential. The changes in the conductance did not depend on the membrane potential; no time-dependent relaxation of the current was induced by steps in the membrane voltage. 5. The current reversal potential was close to the Cl- equilibrium potential; changes in the extracellular Cl- concentration induced corresponding changes in the current amplitude and shifted its reversal potential. The permeability to larger anions--aspartate, glutamate and isethionate--was about one-tenth of that for chloride. 6. Single-channel conductance, estimated from the ratio of the mean current and its variance, was about 1-2 pS. 7. The current could be reversibly blocked by 4,4'-diisothiocyanatostilbene-2,2'-disulphonate (DIDS, 10 microM), chlorpromazine (5 microM) and tolbutamide (0.5-5 mM). 8. It is suggested that the GTP gamma S-induced increase in the permeability to Cl- ions is due to a G protein-mediated production of an as yet unidentified second messenger.