1. These experiments tested the hypothesis that the differing voltage dependence of the transient (INa) and persistent (INaP) Na+ currents in neocortical neurons results from the state of inactivation of one type of Na+ channel rather than from the existence of different types of Na+ channels. This question was examined in acutely isolated pyramidal neurons from the sensorimotor cortex of rats by using papain to remove inactivation from INa and comparing the resulting activation curve with that of INaP. 2. In control cells, INaP activated at more negative potentials than INa. Inclusion of papain in the recording pipette removed inactivation from INa and caused the INa activation curve to be shifted leftward to the position of the curve for INaP measured in control cells. Papain greatly increased both INa amplitude and the time to reach peak INa during smaller depolarizations, whereas the difference between control and test currents was reduced during large depolarizations. 3. We conclude that differences in the voltage dependence of INa and INaP activation does not provide sufficient evidence that these currents flow through separate sets of Na+ channels. Instead, our results are consistent with the idea that INaP largely arises from a fraction of the transient Na+ channels that intermittently lose their inactivation.