1. The action of ryanodine on force development of bundles dissected from rat extensor digitorum longus (EDL) and soleus muscles has been examined. 2. Ryanodine (100-5000 nM) irreversibly depressed twitch and tetanic tension of both muscle types in a dose-related manner. 3. At concentrations above 250 nM, ryanodine induced a slowly developing, dose-dependent contracture which could not be blocked by 5 mM-Co2+. Increasing the stimulation rate or decreasing the oxygenation of the preparation accelerated the rate of contracture development while the total removal of extracellular Ca2+ was required to prevent it. 4. Following the relaxation of the initial contracture (IC) in Ca2+-free solution, a second type of contracture (SC) could be induced by the readdition of Ca2+. This contracture differed from IC in that it was dependent on Ca2+ in the millimolar range and was prevented by 5 mM-Co2+. Both IC and SC were relaxed by perfusion with Ca2+-free, EGTA-containing solution. 5. Subcontracture doses of ryanodine (100 nM) markedly potentiated caffeine contractures of both muscle types. 6. Asymmetric charge movement in EDL fibres was recorded with the Vaseline-gap technique. The amount of charge moved near threshold was virtually unaffected by the presence of 10 microM-ryanodine over the time examined. 7. The results are consistent with the suggestion that ryanodine locks the calcium release channels of the sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) in an open subconductance state with reduced conductance. It appears that lowering the external calcium concentration might still inactivate the release channels after they have been blocked open by ryanodine, possibly by an effect on the T-tubular voltage sensor.