CFTR, the product of the gene mutated in cystic fibrosis, is an ATPase that functions as a Cl(-) channel in which bursts of openings separate relatively long interburst closed times (tauib). Channel gating is controlled by phosphorylation and MgATP, but the underlying molecular mechanisms remain controversial. To investigate them, we expressed CFTR channels in Xenopus oocytes and examined, in excised patches, how gating kinetics of phosphorylated channels were affected by changes in [MgATP], by alterations in the chemical structure of the activating nucleotide, and by mutations expected to impair nucleotide hydrolysis and/or diminish nucleotide binding affinity. The rate of opening to a burst (1/tauib) was a saturable function of [MgATP], but apparent affinity was reduced by mutations in either of CFTR's nucleotide binding domains (NBDs): K464A in NBD1, and K1250A or D1370N in NBD2. Burst duration of neither wild-type nor mutant channels was much influenced by [MgATP]. Poorly hydrolyzable nucleotide analogs, MgAMPPNP, MgAMPPCP, and MgATPgammaS, could open CFTR channels, but only to a maximal rate of opening approximately 20-fold lower than attained by MgATP acting on the same channels. NBD2 catalytic site mutations K1250A, D1370N, and E1371S were found to prolong open bursts. Corresponding NBD1 mutations did not affect timing of burst termination in normal, hydrolytic conditions. However, when hydrolysis at NBD2 was impaired, the NBD1 mutation K464A shortened the prolonged open bursts. In light of recent biochemical and structural data, the results suggest that: nucleotide binding to both NBDs precedes channel opening; at saturating nucleotide concentrations the rate of opening to a burst is influenced by the structure of the phosphate chain of the activating nucleotide; normal, rapid exit from bursts occurs after hydrolysis of the nucleotide at NBD2, without requiring a further nucleotide binding step; if hydrolysis at NBD2 is prevented, exit from bursts occurs through a slower pathway, the rate of which is modulated by the structure of the NBD1 catalytic site and its bound nucleotide. Based on these and other results, we propose a mechanism linking hydrolytic and gating cycles via ATP-driven dimerization of CFTR's NBDs.