We have purified five different alpha subunits of guanine-nucleotide-binding proteins (G proteins) from bovine brain membranes as active forms bound to guanosine 5'-[gamma-thio]triphosphate (GTP[gamma S]). All the purified alpha subunits were interacted with beta gamma subunits and served as a substrate for pertussin-catalyzed ADP-ribosylation. Based on the findings of immunoblot analyses using specific antibodies raised against various alpha subunits of G proteins, three of them were identified as alpha i-1, alpha i-2 and alpha i-3, and the other two were classified into alpha o type. One of the alpha o-type proteins was the most abundant in the brain membranes (termed alpha o), and the other (alpha o2) appeared to differ from alpha o in its proteolytic digestion data. The physiological properties of these purified GTP[gamma S]-bound alpha subunits towards adenylate cyclase and atrial muscarinic K+ channels were studied. The nucleotide-bound forms of alpha i-1, alpha i-2, alpha i-3 and alpha o2 inhibited the adenylate cyclase activity of S49 cyc- membranes which had been reconstituted with GTP[gamma S]-treated Gs; this inhibition appeared to be mainly competitive with the activated Gs, alpha i-1 having the most potent inhibitory activity among them. GTP[gamma S]-bound alpha o, however, could not inhibit the Gs-stimulated activity at all. On the other hand, all the GTP[gamma S]-bound alpha subunits activated atrial muscarinic K+ channels, accompanied by a lag time, at picomolar concentrations. The beta gamma subunits resolved from G proteins also activated the K+ channels without a lag time at nanomolar concentration. The maximum activation by the beta gamma subunits appeared to be more potent than that by any of the alpha subunits. These results suggest that alpha and beta gamma subunits might activate the K+ channels by mechanisms different from each other.