1. We investigated the effect of cibenzoline (a class Ia antiarrhythmic drug) on basal insulin secretory activity of rat pancreatic islets and ATP-sensitive K+ channels (KATP) in single pancreatic beta cells of the same species, using radioimmunoassay and patch clamp techniques. 2. Micromolar cibenzoline had a dose-dependent insulinotrophic action with an EC50 of 94.2 +/- 46.4 microM. The compound inhibited the activity of the KATP channel recorded from a single beta-cell in a concentration-dependent manner. The IC50 was 0.4 microM in the inside-out mode and 5.2 microM in the cell-attached mode, at pH 7.4. 3. In the cell-attached mode, alkalinization of extracellular solution increased the inhibitory action of cibenzoline and the IC50 was reduced from 26.8 microM at pH 6.2 to 0.9 microM at pH 8.4. On the other hand, the action of cibenzoline in the excised inside-out mode was acute in onset with a small IC50, indicating that the drug attains its binding site from the cytoplasmic side of the cell membrane. 4. In the inside-out mode, micromolar ADP reactivated the cibenzoline-blocked KATP channels in a manner similar to that by which ADP restored ATP-dependent block of the channel. 5. The binding of [3H]-glibenclamide to pancreatic islets was inhibited by glibenclamide but not by cibenzoline. In contrast, the [3H]-cibenzoline binding was displaced by unlabelled cibenzoline but not by glibenclamide. It is concluded that cibenzoline blocks pancreatic KATP channels via a binding site distinct from the sulphonylurea receptor.