External tetraethylammonium (TEA+) blocked currents through Kv1.1 channels in a voltage-independent manner between 0 and 100 mV. Lowering extracellular pH (pHo) increased the Kd for TEA+ block. A histidine at position 355 in the Kv1.1 channel protein (homologous to Shaker 425) was responsible for this pH-dependent reduction of TEA+ sensitivity, since the TEA+ effect became independent of pHo after chemical modification of the Kv1.1 channel at H355 and in the H355G and H355K mutant Kv1.1 channels. The Kd values for TEA+ block of the two mutant channels (0.34 +/- 0.06 mM, n = 7 and 0.84 +/- 0. 09 mM, n = 13, respectively) were as expected for a vestibule containing either no or a total of four positive charges at position 355. In addition, the pH-dependent TEA+ effect in the wt Kv1.1 channel was sensitive to the ionic strength of the solution. All our observations are consistent with the idea that lowering pHo increased protonation of H355. This increase in positive charge at H355 will repel TEA+ electrostatically, resulting in a reduction of the effective [TEA+]o at the receptor site. From this reduction we can estimate the distance between TEA+ and each of the four histidines at position 355 to be approximately 10 A, assuming fourfold symmetry of the channel and assuming that TEA+ binds in the central axis of the pore. This determination of the dimensions of the outer vestibule of Kv1.1 channels confirms and extends earlier reports on K+ channels using crystal structure data as well as peptide toxin/channel interactions and points out a striking similarity between vestibules of Kv1.1 and KcsA channels.