Cytochalasins B and D (at 10 microM) inhibited stress development induced by 1 microM carbachol in bovine tracheal smooth muscle by 55% and 90%, respectively. Glucose depletion was ineffective in inhibiting carbachol-induced contraction, indicating that inhibition of glucose transport was not the cause. Cytochalasin D-treated smooth muscle cells appeared collapsed, with spiky protrusions from the cell membrane. Deconvolution of fluorescent images of fluorescein isothiocyanate-phalloidin-labeled smooth muscle cells revealed concentrations of actin filaments near the cell periphery, including near the spiky protrusions. Cytochalasin B attenuated carbachol-induced intracellular Ca2+ concentration ([Ca2+]), especially the initial peak intracellular [Ca2+]. Cytochalasin B also attenuated carbachol-induced myosin light chain phosphorylation. However, when the myosin phosphorylation data were plotted against time-matched intracellular [Ca2+] data, the two relationships in control and cytochalasin B-treated smooth muscle were similar, suggesting that the changes in myosin phosphorylation could be explained by the changes in intracellular [Ca2+]. These results suggest that actin filaments in smooth muscle cells are dynamic and may be an integral component of Ca2+ regulation and/or signal transduction in receptor-coupled mechanisms.