The kinetics of Ca2+ release and contraction induced by photolytic release of inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate (InsP3) were determined in permeabilized smooth muscle. The rate of Ca2+ release was half-maximal at 1 microM InsP3. The concentration-dependent delay of Ca2+ release at saturating InsP3 concentration was approximately 10 ms and within the uncertainty of the measurements. The relationship between the delay and InsP3 concentration showed no evidence of a high level (n = 4 or higher) of cooperativity but could not distinguish between no cooperativity (n = 1) or a low level (n = 2) of cooperativity. Submaximal [InsP3] caused only partial Ca2+ release from the InsP3-sensitive stores. InsP3-induced Ca2+ release was markedly potentiated by ATP or by adenosine 5'-(beta,gamma-methylene-triphosphate), but neither the rate nor the amplitude of release was significantly affected by procaine (2-5 mM). Heparin increased the delay between photolysis and Ca2+ release, indicating that the off rate of inert ligand(s) bound to InsP3 receptors may contribute to the physiological delay in Ca2+ release. There was a much longer (370 ms +/- 45 S.E.) delay between the rise of Ca2+ and force development, presumably reflecting events preceding and associated with myosin light chain phosphorylation.