In many epithelial cells the chloride conductance of the apical membrane increases during the stimulation of electrolyte secretion. Single-channel recordings from human airway epithelial cells showed that beta-adrenergic stimulation evoked apical membrane chloride channel activity, but this response was absent in cells from patients with cystic fibrosis (CF). However, when membrane patches were excised from CF cells into media containing sufficient free calcium (approximately 180 nanomolar), chloride channels were activated. The chloride channels of CF cells were similar to those of normal cells as judged by their current-voltage relations, ion selectivity, and kinetic behavior. These findings demonstrate the presence of chloride channels in the apical membranes of CF airway cells. Their regulation by calcium appears to be intact, but cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP)-dependent control of their activity is defective.