Olfactory transduction is thought to be initiated by the binding of odorants to specific receptor proteins in the cilia of olfactory receptor cells (reviewed in refs 1-3). The mechanism by which odorant binding could initiate membrane depolarization is unknown, but the recent discovery of an odorant-stimulated adenylate cyclase in purified olfactory cilia4,5 suggests that cyclic AMP may serve as an intracellular messenger for olfactory transduction. If so, then there might be a conductance in the ciliary plasma membrane which is controlled by cAMP. Here we report that excised patches of ciliary plasma membrane, obtained from dissociated receptor cells, contain a conductance which is gated directly by cAMP. This conductance resembles the cyclic GMP-gated conductance that mediates phototransduction in rod and cone outer segments6,7, but differs in that it is activated by both cAMP and cGMP. Our data provide a mechanistic basis by which an odorant-stimulated increase in cyclic nucleotide concentration could lead to an increase in membrane conductance and therefore, to membrane depolarization. These data suggest a remarkable similarity between the mechanisms of olfactory and visual transduction and indicate considerable conservation of sensory transduction mechanisms.