Ca2+ release from sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) of malignant-hyperthermia-susceptible (MHS) muscle is hypersensitive to Ca2+ and caffeine. To determine if an abnormal calmodulin (CaM) regulation of the SR Ca(2+)-release-channel-ryanodine-receptor complex (RYR1) contributes to this hypersensitivity, we investigated the effect of CaM on high-affinity [3H]ryanodine binding to isolated SR vesicles from normal and MHS pig skeletal muscle. CaM modulated [3H]ryanodine binding in a Ca(2+)-dependent manner. In the presence of maximally activating Ca2+ concentrations, CaM inhibited [3H]ryanodine binding with no differences between normal and MHS vesicles. In the absence of Ca2+, however, CaM activated [3H]ryanodine binding with a 2-fold-higher potency in MHS vesicles. Significant differences between normal and MHS tissue were observed for CaM concentrations between 50 nM and 10 microM. A polyclonal antibody raised against the central region of RYR1 specifically inhibited this activating effect of CaM without affecting the inhibition by CaM. This indicates that the central region of RYR1 is a potential binding domain for CaM in the absence of Ca2+. It is suggested that in vivo an enhanced CaM sensitivity of RYR1 might contribute to the abnormal high release of Ca2+ from the SR of MHS muscle.