Considerable published evidence suggests that alpha-subunits of the cloned channel sqKv1A compose the "delayed rectifier" in the squid giant axon system, but discrepancies regarding inactivation properties of cloned versus native channels exist. In this paper we define the mechanism of inactivation for sqKv1A channels in Xenopus oocytes to investigate these and other discrepancies. Inactivation of sqKv1A in Xenopus oocytes was found to be unaffected by genetic truncation of the N-terminus, but highly sensitive to certain amino acid substitutions around the external mouth of the pore. External TEA and K(+) ions slowed inactivation of sqKv1A channels in oocytes, and chloramine T (Chl-T) accelerated inactivation. These features are all consistent with a C-type inactivation mechanism as defined for Shaker B channels. Treatment of native channels in giant fiber lobe neurons with TEA or high K(+) does not slow inactivation, nor does Chl-T accelerate it. Pharmacological differences between the two channel types were also found for 4-aminopyridine (4AP). SqKv1A's affinity for 4AP was poor at rest and increased after activation, whereas 4AP block occurred much more readily at rest with native channels than when they were activated. These results suggest that important structural differences between sqKv1A homotetramers and native squid channels are likely to exist around the external and internal mouths of the pore.