Coupled gating (synchronous openings and closures) of groups of skeletal muscle ryanodine receptors (RyR1), which mimics RyR1-mediated Ca(2+) release underlying Ca(2+) sparks, was first described by Marx et al. (Marx SO, Ondrias K, Marks AR. Science 281: 818-821, 1998). The nature of the RyR1-RyR1 interactions for coupled gating still needs to be characterized. Consequently, we defined planar lipid bilayer conditions where ∼25% of multichannel reconstitutions contain mixtures of coupled and independently gating RyR1. In ∼10% of the cases, all RyRs (2-10 channels; most frequently 3-4) gated in coupled fashion, allowing for quantification. Our results indicated that coupling required cytosolic solutions containing ATP/Mg(2+) and high (50 mM) luminal Ca(2+) (Ca(lum)) or Sr(2+) solutions. Bursts of coupled activity (events) started and ended abruptly, with all channels activating/deactivating within ∼300 μs. Coupled RyR1 were heterogeneous, where highly active RyR1 ("drivers") seemed open during the entire coupled event (P(o) = 1), while other RyR1s ("followers") displayed abundant flickering and smaller amplitude. Drivers mean open time increased with cytosolic Ca(2+) (Ca(cyt)) or caffeine, whereas followers flicker frequency was Ca(cyt) independent and more sensitive to inhibition by cytosolic Mg(2+). Coupled events were insensitive to varying lumen-to-cytosol Ca(2+) fluxes from ∼1 to 8 pA, which does not corroborate coupling of neighboring RyR1 by local Ca(2+)-induced Ca(2+) release. However, coupling requires specific Ca(lum) sites, as it was lost when Ca(lum) was replaced by luminal Ba(2+) or Mg(2+). In summary, coupled events reveal complex interactions among heterogeneous RyR1, differentially modulated by cytosolic ATP/Mg(2+), Ca(cyt), and Ca(lum,) which under cell-like ionic conditions may parallel synchronous RyR1 gating during Ca(2+) sparks.