1. The affinities of 10 selective muscarinic receptor antagonists against [3H]-quinuclidinyl benzilate (QNB) binding were determined to characterize the muscarinic receptors present in guinea-pig gallbladder smooth muscle. The highest correlation was obtained for the comparison between the pK(i) values for the gallbladder smooth muscle and M2 sites. Pirenzepine revealed two binding sites with affinities indicating the presence of muscarinic M2 receptors in abundance and a minor population of an additional site(s). 2. Carbachol produced gallbladder contractions, stimulated phosphoinositide (PI) hydrolysis and inhibited cAMP formation concentration-dependently with pD2 values of 6.12 ± 0.11, 5.18 ± 0.33 and 7.19 ± 0.15, respectively. 3. Pirenzepine, 4-DAMP, HHSIDi, pF-HHSiD, AF-DX 116, methoctramine, AQ-RA 741, guanylpirenzepine and AF-DX 384 showed competitive antagonism against carbachol-induced gallbladder contractions. There was no correlation between the pA2 values for the gallbladder and pK(i) values for the M2 sites, whereas significant correlations were found for the M1, M3 and M4 sites, the best correlation being between the pA2 values for the gallbladder and M4 subtypes. 4. Finally, the presence of both m2 and m4 receptor proteins were demonstrated by Western blot analysis. It is concluded that guinea-pig gallbladder smooth muscle has both muscarinic M2 and M4 receptors, which are coupled to adenylate cyclase inhibition and PI hydrolysis. 5. Although it seems likely that M2 receptors do not play a primary role in carbachol-induced guinea-pig gallbladder contraction, the characterization of the muscarinic subtypes which mediate these contractile responses needs further evidence.