The influence of the antidiabetic sulphonylurea tolbutamide on K+ channels of mouse pancreatic beta-cells was investigated using different configurations of the patch clamp technique. The dominant channel in resting cells is a K+ channel with a single-channel conductance of 60 pS that is inhibited by intracellular ATP or, in intact cells, by stimulation with glucose. In isolated patches of beta-cells membrane, this channel was blocked by tolbutamide (0.1 mM) when applied to either the intracellular or extracellular side of the membrane. The dose-dependence of the tolbutamide-induced block was obtained from whole-cell experiments and revealed that 50% inhibition was attained at approximately 7 microM. In cell-attached patches low concentrations of glucose augmented the action of tolbutamide. Thus, the simultaneous presence of 5 mM glucose and 0.1 mM tolbutamide abolished channel activity and induced action potentials. These were not produced when either of these substances was added alone at these concentrations. The inhibitory action of tolbutamide or glucose on the K+ channel was counteracted by the hyperglycaemic sulphonamide diazoxide (0.4 mM). Tolbutamide (1 mM) did not affect Ca2+-dependent K+ channels. It is concluded that the hypo- and hyperglycaemic properties of tolbutamide and diazoxide reflect their ability to induce the closure or opening, respectively, of ATP-regulated K+ channels.