K+ contractures of tonic bundles from cruralis muscle of the frog were studied with different K+ concentrations (10-120 mM). K+ contractures had an initial transient phase followed by a sustained tension. The amplitude of the sustained tension diminished with high K+ concentration (80-120 mM). However, in all cases, tension was maintained for several minutes. External Ca2+ reduction practically abolished the sustained phase of the K+ contractures. The initial phase was also reduced and tension spontaneously relaxed. The curve relating the peak tension with log [K+]o, showed that the threshold was not affected but the peak tension was reduced to about 70% in low-Ca2+ saline (0 Ca2+ + 3 mM-Mg2+) and 50% in Ca2+-free saline (1 mM-EGTA + 3 mM-Mg2+). The dependence of the sustained tension on external Ca2+ was further confirmed by Ca2+ withdrawal and re-establishment and/or by Ni2+ substitution for Ca2+ before or during K+ contractures. These results indicate that external Ca2+ had to be continuously present to maintain the tension during K+ contractures and that Ni2+ was not able to restore the normal temporal course of K+ contracture. The sustained phase was diminished by blocking agents of Ca2+ channels, such as nifedipine (1 microM) and diltiazem (1-10 microM). The present results can be explained by a direct control of the Ca2+ currents on K+ contracture or by specific interactions between external Ca2+ and Ca2+-binding sites in the membrane.