1. The human eag-related potassium channel, HERG, gives rise to inwardly rectifying K+ currents when expressed in Xenopus oocytes. 2. The apparent inward rectification is caused by rapid inactivation. In extracellular Cs+ solutions, large outward currents can be recorded having an inactivation time constant at 0 mV of about 50 ms with an e-fold change every 37 mV. 3. HERG channel inactivation is not caused by an amino-terminal ball structure, as a deletion of the cytoplasmic amino terminus (HERG delta 2-373) did not eliminate inactivation. However, channel deactivation was accelerated about 12-fold at -80 mV. 4. Mutation of S631 to A, the homologous residue of eag channels, in the outer mouth of the HERG pore completely abolished channel inactivation. 5. Activity of HERG channels depended on extracellular cations, which are effective for channel activation, in the order Cs+ > K+ > > Li+ > Na+. The point mutation S631A strongly reduced this channel regulation. 6. By analogy to functional aspects of cloned voltage-gated potassium channels, rectification of HERG, as well as its kinetic properties during the course of an action potential, are presumably governed by a mechanism reminiscent of C-type inactivation.