Niflumic acid (NA), a putative Cl-channel blocker, has provided pharmacological evidence that Cl-channel closures mediate hyperpolarization caused by NO in gastrointestinal smooth muscle. However, NA caused concentration- dependent relaxation of canine lower esophageal sphincter (LES) and failed to inhibit NO-mediated relaxations. DIDS also did not inhibit NO-mediated relaxations, but did abolish them when present with 20 mM TEA (tetraethyl ammonium ion), which was also ineffective alone. TEA reversed NA-induced relaxations, but with NA it did not inhibit NO-mediated relaxations. We investigated the modes of action of these agents further. Neither nerve-function block nor block of NOS activity affected the inhibition of LES tone by NA. In patch-clamp studies, NA increased outward currents from 30 to + 90 mV when [Ca2+]pipette was 50 nM. This was prevented by 20 mM TEA, but not by prior inhibition of NOS. At 200 nM [Ca2+]pipette, TEA markedly reduced outward currents, but did not prevent the increase from subsequent NA. In contrast, under similar conditions, application of DIDS after 20 mM TEA further reduced outward currents. When the patch pipette contained CsCl and TEA to block K+ currents, NA had no significant effect on currents between 50 and +90 mV. Thus, NA acted by opening K+ channels: some TEA-sensitive and some not. It had no detectable effect on currents when K+ channels were blocked. We conclude that NA is an unreliable pharmacological tool to evaluate Cl-channel contributions to smooth muscle function. DIDS did not open K+ channels. Decreases in outward currents from DIDS may result from inhibition of K+ currents or currents carried by Cl at depolarized membrane potentials.Key words: DIDS, niflumic acid, NO actions, smooth muscle.