The effects of quinidine on single inward rectifier K channels were investigated in cell-attached patches with 4.5 mM pipette potassium concentrations. Under these conditions, the single-channel slope conductance of the predominant conductance level of the inward rectifier channels was 3.9 +/- 0.3 pS at membrane potentials between -75 and -150 mV. Quinidine reversibly decreased the likelihood of channel opening to the main conductance level without reducing the single-channel conductance, and also reduced the probability of channel opening to subconducting levels. Quinidine had no significant effects on the channel open times, and the inhibition of channel opening was only slightly voltage dependent over the range of membrane potentials investigated. Quinidine induced a complete cessation of channel openings for brief periods (up to 2 min), suggesting that quinidine promoted occupancy of a state from which opening was less likely. Occasional long periods (up to an hour) with an absence of channel activity were also observed but quinidine did not appear to promote this behavior. The data suggest that quinidine decreases the ability of the channel to enter both main and subconducting states. By binding to a particular closed conformation of the channel, quinidine could reduce the likelihood of channel opening. The main features of these observations could be accounted for using the three-state kinetic model proposed by Sakmann, B. and G. Trube (1984b. J. Physiol. [Lond.]. 347:659-683.) with quinidine binding to the middle closed state.