The past years have seen some significant advances in our understanding of the functional and molecular properties of voltage-dependent Ca2+ channels in arterial smooth muscle. Molecular cloning and expression studies together with experiments on native voltage-dependent Ca2+ channels revealed that these channels are built upon a molecular structure with properties appropriate to function as the main source for Ca2+ entry into arterial smooth muscle cells. This Ca2+ entry regulates intracellular free Ca2+, and thereby arterial tone. We summarize several avenues of recent research that should provide significant insights into the functioning of voltage-dependent Ca2+ channels under conditions that occur in arterial smooth muscle. These experiments have identified important features of voltage-dependent Ca2+ channels, including the steep steady-state voltage-dependence of the channel open probability at steady physiological membrane potentials between -60 and -30 mV, and a relatively high permeation rate at physiological Ca2+ concentrations, being about one million Ca2+ ions/s at -50 mV. This calcium permeation rate seems to be a feature of the pore-forming Ca2+ channel alpha1 subunit, since it was identical for native channels and the expressed alpha1 subunit alone. The channel activity is regulated by dihydropyridines, vasoactive hormones and intracellular signaling pathways. While the membrane potential of smooth muscle cells primarily regulates arterial muscle tone through alterations in Ca2+ influx through dihydropyridine-sensitive voltage-dependent ('L-type') Ca2+ channels, the role of these channels in the differentiation and proliferation of vascular smooth muscle cells is less clear. We discuss recent findings suggesting that other Ca2+ permeable ion channels might be important for the control of Ca2+ influx in dedifferentiated vascular smooth muscle cells.