Relaxin produces positive inotropic and chronotropic effects in rat hearts. The effect of relaxin on the action potential duration (APD) of single quiescent rat atrial cells was investigated with a whole cell patch clamp. Relaxin induced a significant, dose-dependent prolongation of the APD. This effect was maximal at 200 ng/ml (nominal concentration of 33.6 nM), which caused, on average, a 57% increase in the time taken to reach 90% repolarization. The effect of relaxin was blocked by the protein kinase A inhibitor 5-24 amide, indicating that its effect is mediated by an adenosine 3',5'-cyclic monophosphate-dependent mechanism. The increased APD induced by relaxin caused an enhanced entrance of calcium, with the charge carried through voltage-activated calcium channels increased by approximately 25%. This increase was not due to a direct modulation of calcium currents (20); rather, it was a consequence of the longer period of cellular depolarization. Our findings that relaxin increased the APD and therefore increased the calcium influx in atrial myocytes could explain the positive inotropic effects induced by relaxin in atrial preparations.