1. Co-injection of RNA synthesized from cloned neuronal acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) subunits (alpha 4 and beta 2) in Xenopus oocytes produced functional receptors. In macroscopic voltage-clamp experiments, the agonist-induced current exhibited a strong inward rectification. 2. Voltage jumps from +50 mV to more negative potentials produced relaxations of the agonist-induced current with a single exponential time course. The relaxation rate constant was only weakly voltage dependent. 3. At the single-channel level, three conductances were recorded of 12, 22 and 34 pS. Their burst durations were similar and varied only weakly with voltage (e-fold for 120 to 370 mV), consistent with the poorly voltage-dependent relaxation rate constants. However, the burst durations were less than 10 ms, or less than 1/5 the value expected from voltage-jump relaxations. 4. Hexamethonium (Hex, 0.5 to 8 microM) inhibited the agonist-induced current and produced voltage-jump relaxations characterized by a rapid conductance increase and a slower conductance decrease. Analysis of these relaxations suggested that the Hex-receptor interaction is open-channel blockade characterized by a forward binding rate of 1 x 10(7) M-1 s-1 and a dissociation rate constant of about 25 s-1. 5. For the relaxations produced by QX222, the slowest phase was a conductance increase, suggesting that the dissociation rate constant for QX222 is 10-30-fold greater than for Hex. 6. Hex but not QX222 produced an additional use-dependent blockade that was manifest during repetitive hyperpolarizing pulses. 7. With mouse muscle ACh receptors expressed in oocytes, the blockade by Hex did not depend strongly on voltage. Neither Hex nor QX222 produced appreciable use-dependent block on muscle ACh receptors. 8. Of the four conditions studied (neuronal and muscle receptors, Hex and QX222), only the blockade of the neuronal AChR by Hex is characterized by a residence time longer than the normal open time. 9. It is concluded that the modest differences in primary amino acid sequence between muscle and neuronal receptors lead to profound changes in their interactions with channels blockers.