We examined the variability of occurrence and frequency of voltage-dependent whole-cell currents in human peripheral blood monocyte-derived macrophages (HMDM) maintained in culture for up to three weeks. An increase in cell capacitance from an average value of 9 pF on the day of isolation to 117 pF at 14 days accompanied growth and differentiation in culture. The average resting potential was approximately -34 mV for cells beyond two days in culture. Cells exhibited a voltage- and time-dependent outward current upon membrane depolarization above approximately -30 mV, which appeared to be composed of a number of separate currents with variable expression from donor to donor. Three of these currents are carried by K+. The frequency of each outward current type was calculated for 974 cells obtained from 36 donors. The HMDMs in these studies exhibited two 4-aminopyridine (4-AP) sensitive, time-dependent outward currents (IA and IB) that could be differentiated on the basis of the presence or absence of steady-state inactivation in the physiological potential range, time course of inactivation during maintained depolarization, as well as threshold of activation. The 4-AP-insensitive outward current activated at approximately 10 mV. One component of the 4-AP insensitive-outward current (IC) could be blocked by external TEA and by the exchange of internal CS+ or Na+ for K+. The probability of observing IB and IC appeared to be donor dependent. Following total replacement of internal K+ with CS+, two additional currents could be identified (i) a delayed component of outward current (ID) remained which could be blocked by low concentrations of external Zn2+ (4 microM) and was insensitive to anion replacement in the external solution and (ii) a Cl- current with a reversal potential which shifted in the presence of external anion replacement and which was irreversibly inhibited by the stilbene SITS. The activation of a prominent time-independent inward current was often observed with increasing hyperpolarization. This inward current was blocked by external Ba2+ and corresponded to the inwardly rectifying K+ current. Neither inward nor outward current expression appeared dependent on whether cells were differentiated in adherent or suspension culture nor was there demonstrable differential current expression observed upon transition from suspension to adherent form.