Recently, Mills and Johnson  and our group  provided evidence that calmodulin contains, in addition to the four Ca2+-binding sites (capital sites), which are essential for drug- and enzyme-binding, a number of divalent cation-binding sites of different ion selectivity (auxiliary sites), which modulate drug-binding as well as the affinity of Ca2+ for the capital sites. In the present study, the number of auxiliary sites and their relationship to the capital sites were determined by equilibrium gel filtration and by flow microcalorimetry with Zn2+ and Mn2+ as selective probes for the auxiliary sites and with Cd2+ as a probe for both types of sites. In the absence of other divalent cations, 6 mol of Zn2+ bind to calmodulin with an identical affinity constant of 2,850 M-1 and a delta H0 of 106 kJ/mol calmodulin. In the presence of millimolar free Ca2+ calmodulin binds, in addition to four Ca2+, six Zn2+ with an affinity constant of 1,200 M-1 and a delta H0 of 47 kJ/mol calmodulin. The Zn2+-Ca2+ antagonism is governed by negative free energy coupling between the capital and auxiliary sites. In contrast, the Zn2+-Mg2+ antagonism follows the rule of straight competition at all six auxiliary sites. Mn2+ also binds exclusively to the auxiliary sites with affinity constants of 800 or 280 M-1 and delta H0 of 45 or 46 kJ/mol calmodulin in the absence and presence of saturating [Ca2+], respectively. Cd2+ binds to the capital sites with an affinity constant of 3.4 10(4) M-1 (delta H = 35 kJ/mol calmodulin) and to the auxiliary sites with ca. 100-fold lower affinity. The Zn2+ much greater than Mn2+ greater than or equal to Cd2+ greater than Mg2+ selectivity of the auxiliary sites corroborates the potencies of these cations in modulating drug binding. The auxiliary site-specific cations are unable to promote high-affinity complex formation between calmodulin and melittin.