It has been shown that β auxiliary subunits increase current amplitude in voltage-dependent calcium channels. In this study, however, we found a novel inhibitory effect of β3 subunit on macroscopic Ba 2+ currents through recombinant N- and R-type calcium channels expressed in Xenopus oocytes. Overexpressed β3 (12.5 ng/cell cRNA) significantly suppressed N- and R-type, but not L-type, calcium channel currents at "physiological" holding potentials (HPs) of -60 and -80 mV. At a HP of -80 mV, coinjection of various concentrations (0-12.5 ng) of the β3 with Cav2.2α1 and α 2δ enhanced the maximum conductance of expressed channels at lower β3 concentrations but at higher concentrations (>2.5 ng/cell) caused a marked inhibition. The β3-induced current suppression was reversed at a HP of -120 mV, suggesting that the inhibition was voltage dependent. A high concentration of Ba2+ (40 mM) as a charge carrier also largely diminished the effect of β3 at -80 mV. Therefore, experimental conditions (HP, divalent cation concentration, and β3 subunit concentration) approaching normal physiological conditions were critical to elucidate the full extent of this novel β3 effect. Steady-state inactivation curves revealed that N-type channels exhibited " closed-state" inactivation without β3, and that β3 P3 caused an ∼40-mV negative shift of the inactivation, producing a second component with an inactivation midpoint of approximately -85 mV. The inactivation of N-type channels in the presence of a high concentration (12.5 ng/cell) of β3 developed slowly and the time-dependent inactivation curve was best fit by the sum of two exponential functions with time constants of 14 s and 8.8 min at -80 mV. Similar "ultra-slow" inactivation was observed for N-type channels without β3. Thus, β3 can have a profound negative regulatory effect on N-type (and also R-type) calcium channels by causing a hyperpolarizing shift of the inactivation without affecting " ultra-slow" and "closed-state" inactivation properties.