The loss of [3H]quinuclidinyl benzilate ([3H]QNB) binding following high-energy radiation was used to compare the muscarinic receptor size on single smooth muscle cells isolated by collagenase digestion from the canine stomach and on plasma membranes derived from intact gastric smooth muscle without exposure to exogenous proteolysis. Radiation inactivation of galactose oxidase (68 kdaltons), yeast alcohol dehydrogenase (160 kdaltons), and pyruvate kinase (224 kdaltons) activities were used as molecular-weight standards. Radiation inactivation of [3H]QNB binding to rat brain membranes, which gave a target size of 86 kdaltons, served as an additional control. In isolated smooth muscle cells, the calculated size of the muscarinic receptor was 80 +/- 8 kdaltons. In contrast, in a smooth muscle enriched plasma membrane preparation, muscarinic receptor size was significantly smaller at 45 +/- 3 kdaltons. Larger molecular sizes were obtained either in the presence of protease inhibitors (62 +/- 4 kdaltons) or by using a crude membrane preparation of gastric smooth muscle 86 +/- 7 kdaltons).