The heart generates and propagates action potentials through synchronized activation of ion channels allowing inward Na(+) and Ca(2+) and outward K(+) currents. There are a number of K(+) channel types expressed in the heart that play key roles in regulating the cardiac cycle. Large conductance calcium-activated potassium (BK) ion channels are not thought to be directly involved in heart function. Here we present evidence that heart rate can be significantly reduced by inhibiting the activity of BK channels. Agents that specifically inhibit BK channel activity, including paxilline and lolitrem B, slowed heart rate in conscious wild-type mice by 30% and 42%, respectively. Heart rate of BK channel knock-out mice (Kcnma1(-/-)) was not affected by these BK channel inhibitors, suggesting that the changes to heart rate were specifically mediated through BK channels. The possibility that these effects were mediated through BK channels peripheral to the heart was ruled out with experiments using isolated, perfused rat hearts, which showed a significant reduction in heart rate when treated with the BK channel inhibitors paxilline (1 microM), lolitrem B (1 microM), and iberiotoxin (0.23 microM), of 34%, 60%, and 42%, respectively. Furthermore, paxilline was shown to decrease heart rate in a dose-dependent manner. These results implicate BK channels located in the heart to be directly involved in the regulation of heart rate.