The effects of local anesthetics were examined on a family of transiently expressed neuronal calcium channels. Fomocaine, a local anesthetic containing a morpholine ring, preferentially blocked alpha1E channels (Ki = 100 microM), and had a lower affinity (3- to 15-fold) for alpha1A, alpha1B, and alpha1C channels. Block was incompletely reversible, followed 1:1 kinetics, and did not affect steady-state inactivation properties. Fomocaine block was sensitive to the concentration of permeant ion and enhanced in the presence of external pore blockers, suggesting a site of action in the conducting pathway. Flecainide, which carries a piperidine ring, and the diphenylbutylpiperidine antipsychotic, penfluridol, caused qualitatively similar block, suggesting that morpholine rings are compatible with the piperidine receptor site. In contrast, procaine, which contains an alkyl chain, caused reversible low affinity block of the different calcium channels (Kd values between 2 and 5 mM) and was least effective on alpha1E and did not compete with fomocaine, suggesting that local anesthetics interact with at least two distinct receptor sites. Compared to coexpression with the Ca channel beta1b subunit, block at the piperidine receptor site was significantly weakened with the beta2a subunit suggesting that the nature of the beta subunit contributes to drug binding. Amino acid changes in the cytoplasmic linker between domains I and II resulted in decreased fomocaine and penfluridol blocking affinity. Furthermore, the blocking affinity observed with alpha1B, was conferred on alpha1A by substitution of the domain I-II linker of alpha1B into alpha1A. Taken together, the data suggest that beta subunit binding and the domain I- II linker contribute to the piperidine receptor site on neuronal calcium channels.