Guanine nucleotide binding proteins, interchangeably called N or G proteins, seem to be the primary signal-transducing components of various agonist-induced cell membrane functions. In the heart, G proteins have been implicated in beta-adrenergic modulation of the slow inward Ca2+ current. We have investigated the role of G proteins in muscarinic activation of an inwardly rectifying, acetylcholine (ACh)-induced K+ current (IACh), and beta-adrenergic activation of an (isoprenaline)-induced Ca2+ current (Isi). Here we report that intracellular application of the non-hydrolysable GTP analogue 5'-guanylylimidodiphosphate (GppNHp) brought about an agonist-induced, antagonist-resistant, persistent activation of IACh and Isi. This functional uncoupling of channel from receptor suggests that the muscarinic receptor and the IACh channel are separate molecular structures. Membrane conductance responses to sequential activation of muscarinic and beta-adrenergic receptors demonstrate that in contrast to the muscarinic inhibition of Isi, muscarinic stimulation of IACh is mediated by a G protein via a pathway that does not involve adenylate cyclase. Taken together, the results support the notion that agonist is required to induce GppNHp binding and/or activation of the G proteins. Once triggered by agonist, the control system remains maximally activated, thereby transforming the cell so that it no longer responds to subsequent homologous receptor-mediated signals.