Studies of rat aorta revealed that cyclopiazonic acid (CPA), an inhibitor of the endoplasmic reticulum Ca2+ pump, released endothelium-derived relaxing factor (EDRF) and relaxed the muscle. We have used CPA to elucidate how this inhibitor of Ca2+ uptake into internal stores affects K+ channels and Ca2+ entrance in cultured bovine pulmonary endothelial cells using patch-clamp techniques. CPA increased a Ca(2+)-dependent outward K+ current for many minutes, presumably as a consequence of the unbalanced leakage of Ca2+ from internal stores and Ca2+ entrance across the cell membrane. An expected consequence of this activation of the outward current change is hyperpolarization of the cell membrane and increased driving force for Ca2+ entry. CPA activated the influx of extracellular Ca2+ through nonselective cation channels. Ca2+ influx through nonselective cation channels could help maintain intracellular Ca2+ concentration elevation and EDRF release. CPA also reduced the inwardly rectifying K+ current. Inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate (IP3) in the patch pipette also produced an increase in outward K+ currents, which were Ca2+ dependent. After depletion of Ca2+ internal stores by CPA, the response to IP3 was abolished. Heparin in the patch pipette reduced the increase in outward currents induced by bradykinin, an agonist known to raise IP3 and to release Ca2+, but did not prevent CPA-induced increases in outward current. Thus CPA acts to elevate Ca(2+)-activated currents in endothelial cells by a mechanism independent of IP3-induced release, and this may lead to EDRF release both directly and as a consequence of Ca2+ entry through nonselective cation channels driven by an increased electrical gradient for Ca2+.