K+ conductances dominate and potentially modulate the resting potential of skeletal muscle cells. The expression and modulation of a major K+ conductance were examined during in vitro differentiation of the mouse myoblast cell line C2C12. The inwardly rectifying K+ conductance (IKi) increased from unmeasurable levels in undifferentiated myoblasts to approximately 1.56 +/- 0.51 nA (n = 17) in myoballs derived from myotubes at 5 days after induction of differentiation. The inward rectifier was subject to modulation by intracellular signals. Exposure of cytoplasm to guanosine 5'-O-(3-thiotriphosphate) during whole cell recording produced a concentration (5-100 microM)- and time (1-20 min)-dependent inhibition of the mean conductance. Elevation of intracellular free Ca2+ (> 200 nM) also inhibited IKi. These findings demonstrate a potential mechanism for modulation of the resting potential of muscle fibers via the control of skeletal muscle IKi.