Atrial and ventricular myocytes 200 to 300 microm long containing one to five myofibrils are isolated from frog hearts. After a cell is caught and held between two suction micropipettes the surface membrane is destroyed by briefly jetting relaxing solution containing 0.05% Triton X-100 on it from a third micropipette. Jetting buffered Ca2+ from other pipettes produces sustained contractions that relax completely on cessation. The pCa/force relationship is determined at 20 degrees C by perfusing a closely spaced sequence of pCa concentrations (pCa = -log[Ca2+]) past the skinned myocyte. At each step in the pCa series quick release of the myocyte length defines the tension baseline and quick restretch allows the kinetics of the return to steady tension to be observed. The pCa/force data fit to the Hill equation for atrial and ventricular myocytes yield, respectively, a pK (curve midpoint) of 5.86 +/- 0.03 (mean +/- SE.; n = 7) and 5.87 +/- 0.02 (n = 18) and an nH (slope) of 4.3 +/- 0.34 and 5.1 +/- 0.35. These slopes are about double those reported previously, suggesting that the cooperativity of Ca2+ activation in frog cardiac myofibrils is as strong as in fast skeletal muscle. The shape of the pCa/force relationship differs from that usually reported for skeletal muscle in that it closely follows the ideal fitted Hill plot with a single slope while that of skeletal muscle appears steeper in the lower than in the upper half. The rate of tension redevelopment following release restretch protocol increases with Ca2+ >10-fold and continues to rise after Ca2+ activated tension saturates. This finding provides support for a strong kinetic mechanism of force regulation by Ca2+ in frog cardiac muscle, at variance with previous reports on mammalian heart muscle. The maximum rate of tension redevelopment following restretch is approximately twofold faster for atrial than for ventricular myocytes, in accord with the idea that the intrinsic speed of the contractile proteins is faster in atrial than in ventricular myocardium.