TASK-1 and TASK-3 are functional members of the tandem-pore K+ (K2P) channel family, and mRNAs for both channels are expressed together in many brain regions. Although TASK-1 and TASK-3 subunits are able to form heteromers when their complementary RNAs are injected into oocytes, whether functional heteromers are present in the native tissue is not known. Using cultured cerebellar granule (CG) neurones that express mRNAs of both TASK-1 and TASK-3, we studied the presence of heteromers by comparing the sensitivities of cloned and native K+ channels to extracellular pH (pHo) and ruthenium red. The single-channel conductance of TASK-1, TASK-3 and a tandem construct (TASK-1/TASK-3) expressed in COS-7 cells were 14.2 +/- 0.4, 37.8 +/- 0.7 and 38.1 +/- 0.7 pS (-60 mV), respectively. TASK-3 and TASK-1/TASK-3 (and TASK-3/TASK-1) displayed nearly identical single-channel kinetics. TASK-3 and TASK-1/TASK-3 expressed in COS-7 cells were inhibited by 26 +/- 4 and 36 +/- 2 %, respectively, when pHo was changed from 8.3 to 7.3. In outside-out patches from CG neurones, the K+ channel with single channel properties similar to those of TASK-3 was inhibited by 31 +/- 7 % by the same reduction in pHo. TASK-3 and TASK-1/TASK-3 expressed in COS-7 cells were inhibited by 78 +/- 7 and 3 +/- 4 %, respectively, when 5 microm ruthenium red was applied to outside-out patches. In outside-out patches from CG neurones containing a 38 pS channel, two types of responses to ruthenium red were observed. Ruthenium red inhibited the channel activity by 77 +/- 5 % in 42 % of patches (range: 72-82 %) and by 5 +/- 4 % (range: 0-9 %) in 58 % of patches. When patches contained more than three 38 pS channels, the average response to ruthenium red was 47 +/- 6 % inhibition (n= 5). These electrophysiological studies show that native 38 pS K+ channels of the TASK family in cultured CG neurones consist of both homomeric TASK-3 and heteromeric TASK-1/TASK-3.