In both skeletal and cardiac muscle, the dihydropyridine (DHP) receptor is a critical element in excitation-contraction (e-c) coupling. However, the mechanism for calcium release is completely different in these muscles. In cardiac muscle the DHP receptor functions as a rapidly-activated calcium channel and the influx of calcium through this channel induces calcium release from the sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR). In contrast, in skeletal muscle the DHP receptor functions as a voltage sensor and as a slowly-activating calcium channel; in this case, the voltage sensor controls SR calcium release. It has been previously demonstrated that injection of dysgenic myotubes with cDNA (pCAC6) encoding the skeletal muscle DHP receptor restores the slow calcium current and skeletal type e-c coupling that does not require entry of external calcium (Tanabe, Beam, Powell, and Numa. 1988. Nature. 336:134-139). Furthermore, injection of cDNA (pCARD1) encoding the cardiac DHP receptor produces rapidly activating calcium current and cardiac type e-c coupling that does require calcium entry (Tanabe, Mikami, Numa, and Beam. 1990. Nature. 344:451-453). In this paper, we have studied the voltage dependence of, and the relationship between, charge movement, calcium transients, and calcium current in normal skeletal muscle cells in culture. In addition, we injected pCAC6 or pCARD1 into the nuclei of dysgenic myotubes and studied the relationship between the restored events and compared them with those of the normal cells. Charge movement and calcium currents were recorded with the whole cell patch-clamp technique. Calcium transients were measured with Fluo-3 introduced through the patch pipette. The kinetics and voltage dependence of the charge movement, calcium transients, and calcium current in dysgenic myotubes expressing pCAC6 were qualitatively similar to the ones elicited in normal myotubes: the calcium transient displayed a sigmoidal dependence on voltage and was still present after the addition of 0.5 mM Cd2+ + 0.1 mM La3+. In contrast, the calcium transient in dysgenic myotubes expressing pCARD1 followed the amplitude of the calcium current and thus showed a bell shaped dependence on voltage. In addition, the transient had a slower rate of rise than in pCAC6-injected myotubes and was abolished completely by the addition of Cd2+ + La3+.