The expression of eighteen different voltage-activated potassium channel genes in rat sympathetic ganglia was quantitatively analysed using an RNase protection assay. Eleven alpha-subunit genes and two beta-subunit genes were expressed in sympathetic ganglia. The relative level of potassium channel mRNA expression was compared between the superior cervical ganglion (SCG) and two preverteabral sympathetic ganglia, the coeliac ganglion (CG) and the superior mesenteric ganglion (SMG). Four mRNAs were differentially expressed: Kv1.2, Kv1.4, Kv2.2 and Kv beta 1. Transcripts from all four genes were more abundant in the prevertebral ganglia. From comparisons with previous electrophysiological studies it was concluded that genes encoding the channels underlying the M-current and D2-current, which are both prominent in sympathetic neurons, have yet to be identified. It was also concluded that members of the Kv4 family are likely to underlie the low-threshold A-current in sympathetic neurons.