Current flowing through single Ca- and voltage-activated K channels has been recorded from cell-attached and inside-out excised membrane patches of cultured Y-1 adrenocortical cells. In intact cells, single-channel current amplitude and the time a channel stays in the open state increase with membrane depolarization. In excised patches bathed in symmetrical 130 mM K solutions, single-channel conductance is 170 pS. This value is constant in the membrane potential range of +/- 50 mV but decreases at larger hyper- and depolarizations. Channel open probability is heavily influenced by the concentration of ionic Ca at the inner surface of the membrane in the range between 0.01 and 10 microM. When internal Ca concentration is close to 0.01 microM, channels are usually closed even at large depolarizing voltages. With larger Ca concentrations, channel open probability increases and its voltage dependence is greater. These channels are uniformly distributed in the plasma membrane, since one to four channels were seen in more than 99% of the patches isolated in this study. There are previous reports suggesting a role for calcium ions in the secretory response of adrenocortical cells to ACTH. Therefore, it is possible that, as in other endocrine cells, these K channels modulate Ca influx across the plasma membrane and thus contribute to regulate steroid biosynthesis and release.