Binding to muscarinic receptors was compared with adenylate cyclase inhibition in membranes derived from human heart auricles, and with inhibition of the contraction of auricular muscle fibers. In the absence of GTP, agonists recognized two classes of receptors both of which bound antagonists with the same affinity. In the presence of GTP, both classes of receptors for agonists were converted into a single low affinity state. Carbachol and oxotremorine inhibited adenylate cyclase activity by 43%, pilocarpine being less efficient (-28%). The 3 agonists exerted similar inhibitory effects on the inotropic response, in 7 out of 9 preparations of electrically- and norepinephrine-stimulated fibers. Dose-effect curves suggested that spareness (or an amplification mechanism) was implicated in the occupancy of low affinity binding sites by carbachol and oxotremorine (but not by the partial agonist pilocarpine) and the resulting inhibition of both adenylate cyclase activity and contractile force.