Abstract We have compared the efficacy of cromakalim and nifedipine to inhibit acetylcholine (ACh) and pilocarpine-induced tonic contractions in control preparations and in tissues where a fraction of the muscarinic receptor population had been removed by alkylation with phenoxybenzamine (PBZ). Both agonists induced contractions by stimulating pharmacologically similar receptors, probably of the M 3 muscarinic subtype. The receptor reserve was larger, and the coupling between stimulation and contraction (E-C coupling) more efficient when ACh was the stimulating agonist. For stimulations that produced equal levels of muscle response, cromakalim was more efficacious in inhibiting contractions induced by pilocarpine. The efficacy of cromakalim in relaxing contractions induced by ACh increased when the number of functional receptors decreased. Cromakalim and nifedipine decreased the efficiency of E-C coupling for ACh and pilocarpine. Cromakalim efficacy decreased in a sigmoid manner when stimulating concentrations of ACh (and receptor occupancy) increased, and there was an inverse relationship between receptor occupancy by ACh and cromakalim efficacy. In the presence of TEA, a K + channel blocker, nifedipine almost completely inhibited contractions induced by the M 3 muscarinic agonist bethanechol. These data indicate that in bovine tracheal smooth muscle, electro-mechanical coupling is an inherent part of muscarinic E-C coupling, but its functional expression is dependent upon the efficacy of stimulation. The data also suggest that the M 3 receptor is coupled to a cellular pathway linked with the activation of K + channels that exerts a potent functional antagonism against activation of voltage-dependent Ca 2+ entry.