KCNQ1 voltage-gated K(+) channels assemble with the family of KCNE type I transmembrane peptides to afford membrane-embedded complexes with diverse channel gating properties. KCNQ1/KCNE1 complexes generate the very slowly activating cardiac I(Ks) current, whereas assembly with KCNE3 produces a constitutively conducting complex involved in K(+) recycling in epithelia. To determine whether these two KCNE peptides influence voltage sensing in KCNQ1 channels, we monitored the position of the S4 voltage sensor in KCNQ1/KCNE complexes using cysteine accessibility experiments. A panel of KCNQ1 S4 cysteine mutants was expressed in Xenopus oocytes, treated with the membrane-impermeant cysteine-specific reagent 2-(trimethylammonium) ethyl methanethiosulfonate (MTSET), and the voltage-dependent accessibility of each mutant was determined. Of these S4 cysteine mutants, three (R228C, G229C, I230C) were modified by MTSET only when KCNQ1 was depolarized. We then employed these state-dependent residues to determine how assembly with KCNE1 and KCNE3 affects KCNQ1 voltage sensor equilibrium and equilibration rates. In the presence of KCNE1, MTSET modification rates for the majority of the cysteine mutants were approximately 10-fold slower, as was recently reported to indicate that the kinetics of the KCNQ1 voltage sensor are slowed by KCNE1 (Nakajo, K., and Y. Kubo. 2007 J. Gen. Physiol. 130:269-281). Since MTS modification rates reflect an amalgam of reagent accessibility, chemical reactivity, and protein conformational changes, we varied the depolarization pulse duration to determine whether KCNE1 slows the equilibration rate of the voltage sensors. Using the state-dependent cysteine mutants, we determined that MTSET modification rates were essentially independent of depolarization pulse duration. These results demonstrate that upon depolarization the voltage sensors reach equilibrium quickly in the presence of KCNE1 and the slow gating of the channel complex is not due to slowly moving voltage sensors. In contrast, all cysteine substitutions in the S4 of KCNQ1/KCNE3 complexes were freely accessible to MTSET independent of voltage, which is consistent with KCNE3 shifting the voltage sensor equilibrium to favor the active state at hyperpolarizing potentials. In total, these results suggest that KCNE peptides differently modulate the voltage sensor in KCNQ1 K(+) channels.