Calcium channels are important regulators of neuronal excitability and contribute to transmitter release, calcium dependent gene expression, and oscillatory behavior in many cell types. Under physiological conditions, native low-voltage (T-type)- and high-voltage-activated (HVA) currents are potently inhibited by trivalent cations. However, the presence of multiple calcium channel isoforms has hampered our ability to unequivocally assess the effects of trivalent cations on channel activity. Here, we describe the actions of nine trivalent metal ions on transiently expressed alpha1G (Cav3.1) T-type calcium channels cloned from human brain. In 2 mM external barium solution, yttrium most potently inhibited alpha1G current (IC50 = 28 nM), followed by erbium > gadolinium ~ cerium > holmium > ytterbium > neodymium > lanthanum >> scandium. With the exception of scandium, blocking affinity was loosely correlated with decreasing ionic radius. A detailed characterization of yttrium block revealed a 25-fold decrease in blocking affinity when the external concentration of charge carrier was increased from 2 mM to 20 mM. In 20 mM barium, yttrium also effectively inhibited various types of cloned HVA channels indicating that this ion is a nonselective blocker. For all calcium channels examined, yttrium preferentially inhibited inward over outward current, but block was otherwise voltage independent. In addition to peak current inhibition, P/Q- and L-type channels underwent a unique speeding of the macroscopic time course of inactivation. Whereas peak current block of alpha1A channels was highly sensitive to the external charge carrier concentration, the inactivation effects mediated by yttrium were not, suggesting that the two effects are due to distinct mechanisms. Moreover, the speeding effect was greatly attenuated by manipulations that slowed the inactivation kinetics of the channels. Thus, our evidence suggests that yttrium effects are mediated by two distinct events: peak current block likely occurring by occlusion of the pore, and kinetic speeding arising from yttrium interactions with the channel that alter the state of the inactivation gate.