Transverse tubule (T-tubule) ecto-ATPase from chicken skeletal muscle is an integral membrane glycoprotein that seems to exist as a homodimer and exhibits unusual properties. Treatment of T-tubule membranes with concanavalin A (Con A) did not significantly affect the thermal variation of the fluorescence anisotropy of vesicles labelled with 1,6-diphenyl-1,3,5-hexatriene or trimethylammonium-1,6-diphenyl-1,3,5-hexatriene. Cross-linking of membrane components with glutaraldehyde elicited effects on ecto-ATPase activity very similar to those of Con A treatment: a severalfold increase in activity, a decrease in Triton X-100 sensitivity and a requirement to be present before ATP to exert its action. In addition, glutaraldehyde and Con A normalized the temperature dependence and the kinetic behaviour of the enzyme. Membrane-perturbing agents (detergents, alcohols and cholesterol oxidase), with the sole exception of digitonin, caused a marked decrease in ecto-ATPase activity; the prior presence of Con A prevented this inhibition, whereas when the lectin was added after the membrane perturbing agent, recovery of the activity was not always possible. The addition of nucleotides before Con A led to a suppression of ecto-ATPase stimulation; it occurred when the nucleotide was hydrolysed (ATP or UTP) and when it was not (adenosine 5'-[beta,gamma-imido]triphosphate) and even in the presence of 3 mM P(i). A model is proposed for the complex regulatory mechanisms of chicken T-tubule ecto-ATPase that involves the occurrence of two different catalytic states in an equilibrium modulated by lectins and cross-linking agents, by the structure of the membrane and by the presence of ligands for a regulatory site.