The addition of polylysine to a heavy fraction of sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) vesicles produces a rapid Ca2+ release with no appreciable lag period. The polylysine concentration for half-maximal activation (C1/2) is approximately 0.99 micrograms/ml, or 0.3 microM, the lowest C 1/2 for Ca2+ release-inducing reagents reported in the literature. The time course and the [Ca2+] dependence of polylysine-induced release are similar to those of caffeine-induced Ca2+ release. At higher concentrations of polylysine (e.g., 10 micrograms/ml), however, little or no Ca2+ release occurs. Upon photolysis of SR vesicles with the photocrosslinkable radiolabeled polylysine derivative, [3H]succinimidyl azido benzoate polylysine, 0.28 and 0.52-1.2 mol polylysine were bound to 1 mol of the 400-kDa foot protein at activating (3 micrograms/ml) and inhibitory (10 micrograms/ml) concentrations of polylysine, respectively. On the other hand, the amounts of polylysine bound to the other SR proteins (mol/mol) were negligible (e.g., less than or equal to 0.0127 mol polylysine/mol calsequestrin). This suggests that the binding of polylysine to the foot protein is responsible not only for the induction of release but also for inactivation. These results provide direct evidence that the receptor for the chemical trigger of Ca2+ release is localized within the foot protein. Ruthenium red, which inhibits polylysine-induced Ca2+ release, does not inhibit polylysine binding to the foot protein, suggesting that the polylysine binding domain of the foot protein is different from the channel domain.