Here we present functional evidence for involvement of poly-(R)-3-hydroxybutyrate (PHB) and inorganic polyphosphate (polyP) in ion conduction and selection at the intracellular side of the Streptomyces lividans potassium channel, KcsA. At < or = 25 degrees C, KcsA forms channels in planar bilayers that display signal characteristics of PHB/polyP channels at the intracellular side; i.e., a preference for divalent Mg(2+) cations at pH 7.2, and a preference for monovalent K+ cations at pH 6.8. Between 25 and 26 degrees C, KcsA undergoes a transition to a new conformation in which the channel exhibits high selectivity for K+, regardless of solution pH. This suggests that basic residues of the C-terminal polypeptides have moved closer to the polyP end unit, reducing its negative charge. The data support a supramolecular structure for KcsA in which influx of ions is prevented by the selectivity pore, whereas efflux of K+ is governed by a conductive core of PHB/polyP in partnership with the C-terminal polypeptide strands.