Thapsigargin is a high affinity inhibitor of sarco- and endoplasmic reticulum (SERCA) type ATPases. We have used kinetics to determine the dissociation constant of thapsigargin-sarcoplasmic reticulum Ca(2+)-ATPase interaction in the absence and presence of non-ionic detergent. The observed "off" rate constant was measured as 0.0052 s-1 at 26 degrees C by the kinetics of inhibition of ATPase activity following transfer from an inactivated thapsigargin-ATPase complex to native ATPase. Inactive ATPase was produced by cross-linking the active site with glutaraldehyde. The observed dissociation rate constant was increased 7-fold by 0.1% Triton X-100, indicating that perturbation of the transmembrane and stalk region by detergent altered the binding parameters of the inhibitor. In addition, thapsigargin stabilized the ATPase against inactivation caused by detergent in the absence of Ca2+. The observed "on" rate constant of thapsigargin was measured at 26 degrees C as 25 s-1 irrespective of thapsigargin concentration, by the kinetics of thapsigargin- induced change in intrinsic fluorescence. An Arrhenius plot showed a temperature dependence of this rate constant, indicative of a conformational change in the protein with an activation energy of 9.5 kcal/mol for thapsigargin binding. The affinity of the Ca(2+)-ATPase for thapsigargin was calculated to be greater than 2 pM at pH 7.0 and 26 degrees C.