The actions of potent mammalian neurotoxins isolated from the venom of two Australian funnel-web spiders were investigated using both electrophysiological and neurochemical techniques. Whole-cell patch clamp recording of sodium currents in rat dorsal root ganglion neurons revealed that versutoxin (VTX), isolated from the venom of Hadronyche versuta, produced a concentration-dependent slowing or removal of tetrodotoxin-sensitive (TTX-S) sodium current inactivation and a reduction in peak TTX-S sodium current. In contrast, VTX had no effect on tetrodotoxin-resistant (TTX-R) sodium currents or potassium currents. VTX also shifted the voltage dependence of sodium channel activation in the hyperpolarizing direction and increased the rate of recovery from inactivation. Ion flux studies performed in rat brain synaptosomes also revealed that robustoxin (RTX), from the venom of Atrax robustus, and VTX both produced a partial activation of 22Na+ flux and an inhibition of batrachotoxin-activated 22Na+ flux. This inhibition of flux through batrachotoxin-activated channels was not due to an interaction with neurotoxin receptor site 1 since [3H]saxitoxin binding was unaffected. In addition, the partial activation of 22Na+ flux was not enhanced in the presence of alpha-scorpion toxin and further experiments suggest that VTX also enhances [3H]batrachotoxin binding. These selective actions of funnel-web spider toxins on sodium channel function are comparable to those of alpha-scorpion and sea anemone toxins which bind to neurotoxin receptor site 3 on the channel to slow channel inactivation profoundly. Also, these modifications of sodium channel gating and kinetics are consistent with actions of the spider toxins to produce repetitive firing of action potentials.