A Ca2+-channel blocker derived from funnel-web spider toxin (FTX) has made it possible to define and study the ionic channels responsible for the Ca2+ conductance in mammalian Purkinje cell neurons and the preterminal in squid giant synapse. In cerebellar slices, FTX blocked Ca2+-dependent spikes in Purkinje cells, reduced the spike afterpotential hyperpolarization, and increased the Na+-dependent plateau potential. In the squid giant synapse, FTX blocked synaptic transmission without affecting the presynaptic action potential. Presynaptic voltage-clamp results show blockage of the inward Ca2+ current and of transmitter release. FTX was used to isolate channels from cerebellum and squid optic lobe. The isolated product was incorporated into black lipid membranes and was analyzed by using patch-clamp techniques. The channel from cerebellum exhibited a 10- to 12-pS conductance in 80 mM Ba2+ and 5-8 pS in 100 mM Ca2+ with voltage-dependent open probabilities and kinetics. High Ba2+ concentrations at the cytoplasmic side of the channel increased the average open time from 1 to 3 msec to more than 1 sec. A similar channel was also isolated from squid optic lobe. However, its conductance was higher in Ba2+, and the maximum opening probability was about half of that derived from cerebellar tissue and also was sensitive to high cytoplasmic Ba2+. Both channels were blocked by FTX, Cd2+, and Co2+ but were not blocked by omega-conotoxin or dihydropyridines. These results suggest that one of the main Ca2+ conductances in mammalian neurons and in the squid preterminal represents the activation of a previously undefined class of Ca2+ channel. We propose that it be termed the "P" channel, as it was first described in Purkinje cells.