Neuronal potassium (K(+)) channels are usually regarded as largely inhibitory, i.e. reducing excitability. Here we show that BK-type calcium-activated K(+) channels enhance high-frequency firing and cause early spike frequency adaptation in neurons. By combining slice electrophysiology and computational modelling, we investigated functions of BK channels in regulation of high-frequency firing in rat CA1 pyramidal cells. Blockade of BK channels by iberiotoxin (IbTX) selectively reduced the initial discharge frequency in response to strong depolarizing current injections, thus reducing the early spike frequency adaptation. IbTX also blocked the fast afterhyperpolarization (fAHP), slowed spike rise and decay, and elevated the spike threshold. Simulations with a computational model of a CA1 pyramidal cell confirmed that the BK channel-mediated rapid spike repolarization and fAHP limits activation of slower K(+) channels (in particular the delayed rectifier potassium current (I(DR))) and Na(+) channel inactivation, whereas M-, sAHP- or SK-channels seem not to be important for the early facilitating effect. Since the BK current rapidly inactivates, its facilitating effect diminishes during the initial discharge, thus producing early spike frequency adaptation by an unconventional mechanism. This mechanism is highly frequency dependent. Thus, IbTX had virtually no effect at spike frequencies < 40 Hz. Furthermore, extracellular field recordings demonstrated (and model simulations supported) that BK channels contribute importantly to high-frequency burst firing in response to excitatory synaptic input to distal dendrites. These results strongly support the idea that BK channels play an important role for early high-frequency, rapidly adapting firing in hippocampal pyramidal neurons, thus promoting the type of bursting that is characteristic of these cells in vivo, during behaviour.