To get insight into the potential risk of myopathy associated with therapy involving 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A reductase inhibitors, we evaluated in vivo and in vitro the effects of a daily 2 to 3-month treatment with pravastatin (100 mg/kg) and with simvastatin (5, 10 and 50 mg/kg) on the electrical properties of rat skeletal muscle fibers. The electromyographic activity revealed no sign of myopathy during treatment with pravastatin and with simvastatin. At the end of the treatment, the passive and active membrane electrical parameters of the extensor digitorum longus muscles were measured in vitro by computerized two-intracellular-microelectrode technique. A dose-dependent reduction of membrane chloride conductance was recorded in extensor digitorum longus fibers of simvastatin-treated groups, and at 50 mg/kg the reduction of chloride conductance was significant in 6 out of the 7 treated rats. By contrast, none of the pravastatin-treated rats showed significant alteration of chloride conductance. Consequently, the excitability parameters were modified by simvastatin but not by pravastatin treatment, whereas the resting membrane potential was not affected. An increase in potassium conductance, reduced by in vitro application of glybenclamide, was recorded in 30% of the simvastatin-treated rats (50 mg/kg) and in only 15% of the pravastatin-treated rats. Our results suggest that the risk of myopathy is much higher with the lipophilic simvastatin than with the hydrophilic pravastatin and support the hypothesis that the muscle toxicity of HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors is due to an intracellular action mediated by the inhibition of muscle cholesterol synthesis.