1. In hippocampal pyramidal cells, action potentials are followed by three after-hyperpolarizations (AHPs): a fast AHP (fAHP) lasting 2-5 ms, a medium AHP (mAHP) lasting 50-100 ms, and a slow AHP (sAHP) lasting more than 1 s. The mechanism underlying the mAHP was studied in CA1 cells (n = 46) in rat hippocampal slices, using injection of depolarizing current to elicit discharge. 2. The current underlying the mAHP was studied by single-electrode voltage clamp in two ways. Either the voltage clamp was activated following a burst of spikes, thus recording the early tail current underlying the mAHP (hybrid clamp), or, after blocking the spikes with tetrodotoxin, the early tail current following a depolarizing voltage clamp command (to -20 to -45 mV for 100-400 ms) was measured. In both cases, the early tail current (measured at -60 mV) showed the following characteristics: (a) it decayed exponentially with a time constant of about 50 ms; (b) it was substantially reduced by the muscarinic agonist carbachol (40-50 microM); (c) it was moderately reduced (by 20% or less) by Ca2+-free medium and Ca2+ channel blockers (Cd2+, Mn2+), which abolished the fAHP and the sAHP; (d) it was partly blocked by tetraethylammonium (TEA, 1-10 mM) both before and during Ca2+ channel blockade; (e) it was resistant to noradrenaline (5-10 microM), which blocked the sAHP, and to apamin (100 nM). 3. The mAHP itself, recorded under current clamp, showed properties corresponding to those of the early tail current. 4. Unlike the current underlying the sAHP, which was reduced and reversed by hyperpolarization, the early tail current appeared to be reduced only at potentials down to -80 mV, and to increase at more negative potentials. The early tail current and mAHP-like undershoot at hyperpolarized potentials was blocked by external Cs+, but not by carbachol, in contrast to the early tail current and mAHP at -60 mV. 5. It was concluded that two currents contribute to the mAHP: IM (a voltage-gated muscarine-sensitive K+ current) and IC (a Ca2+-dependent TEA-sensitive K+ current). TEA reduced both the IM (5 mM) and the IC (1 mM) component of the mAHP. When the cell is hyperpolarized, a third current, IQ (a Ca+-sensitive mixed Na+-K+ inward current activated by hyperpolarization), masks the reversal of the mAHP by causing a depolarizing sag which resembles the decay of the mAHP.