The rate of development of the positive inotropic action of ouabain is enhanced when the heart is stimulated at higher frequencies. A hypothesis that this enhancement is due to a stimulation of the glycoside binding to sarcolemmal Na+,K+-adenosine triphosphatase (ATPase) caused by an increase in intracellular Na+ available to the sodium pump was tested in isolated left atrial muscle preparations of guinea-pig heart, incubated at 30 degrees C and electrically stimulated at 0.5, 1 or 2 Hz. The rate of development of the positive inotropic action of ouabain was dependent on the frequency of stimulation. Each preparation was homogenized at a predetermined time and the fractional occupancy of Na+,K+-ATPase by ouabain was estimated from the decrease in the initial velocity of ATP-dependent [3H]ouabain binding reaction. A parallel relationship was observed between effects of stimulation frequency of the positive inotropic action and those on the occupancy of Na+,K+-ATPase by ouabain. In quiescent preparations, a sodium ionophore, monensin, enhanced the development of contracture caused by a toxic concentration of ouabain and also the glycoside binding to Na+,K+-ATPase. Similar effects on the ouabain-induced contracture and on the glycoside binding were observed with either grayanotoxin I or batrachotoxin, agents known to increase sodium influx, when muscle preparations were exposed to these agents under 1.5 Hz stimulation and were subsequently tested for the actions of ouabain in quiescence. When the exposure to ouabain and either grayanotoxin I or batrachotoxin was restricted to quiescent period, the development of ouabain-induced contracture and glycoside binding to Na+,K+-ATPase were not significantly altered. Monensin, grayanotoxin I or batrachotoxin failed to significantly affect [3H]ouabain binding to muscle homogenates when added to the medium for the labeled glycoside binding assay. These results indicate that intracellular sodium ions promote the ouabain binding to Na+,K+-ATPase and thereby enhance the development of glycoside actions in the isolated atrial muscle of guinea-pig heart. The "beat-dependent" onset of the glycoside action is at least partially explained from the effect of membrane depolarization to increase Na+ available to the sodium pump and to enhance the glycoside binding.