Five distinct K+ channel cDNA molecules (RK1 to RK5) were cloned from either rat heart or rat aorta cDNA libraries. Four of the channels, RK1 to RK4, are similar or identical to Shaker-like K+ channels previously identified in rat brain cDNA libraries. Major differences among RK1 to RK4 exist in the amino- and carboxyl-terminal regions and in amino acids representing potential extracellular sequence between the S1 and S2 hydrophobic domains. RK5 encodes a unique channel of 490 amino acids having six hydrophobic domains but only five basic residues in the putative voltage-sensing domain. Unlike RK1 to RK4, RK5 is a rat homologue of the Drosophila Shal family of K+ channels, which have not been previously described in mammals. Although RK5 mRNA is present in cardiac atrium and ventricle, it is most abundant in brain. RK1, RK2, and RK3 transcripts are predominantly found in brain but are present also at lower levels in other tissues, such as heart and aorta. RK2 is absent from skeletal muscle whereas RK1 and RK3 are present in this tissue. RK4 mRNA is ubiquitous in electrically excitable tissue, being present at comparable levels in atrium, ventricle, aorta, brain, and skeletal muscle. The cloning of RK5 confirms the presence in mammals of all four Drosophila K+ channel families: Shaker, Shab, Shaw, and Shal.