We have constructed a full-length rat brain Na+ channel alpha subunit cDNA that differs from the previously reported alpha subunit of Noda et al. at 6 amino acid positions. Transcription of the cDNA in vitro and injection into Xenopus oocytes resulted in the synthesis of functional Na+ channels. Although the single-channel conductance of the channels resulting from cloned cDNA was the same as that of channels resulting from injection of rat brain RNA, we observed two significant differences in the gating properties of the channels. The Na+ currents from cloned cDNA displayed much slower macroscopic inactivation compared with those from rat brain mRNA. In addition, the current-voltage relationship for currents from cloned cDNA was shifted 20-25 mV in the depolarizing direction compared with currents from rat brain RNA. Coinjection of low MW rat brain RNA restored normal inactivation of the channels indicating the presence of a component, either a structural subunit of the channel complex or a modifying enzyme, necessary for normal gating of the channel.