Iberiotoxin (IbTX), a selective peptidyl ligand for high-conductance Ca2(+)-activated K+ (maxi-K) channels cannot be radioiodinated in biologically active form due to the importance of Y36 in interacting with the channel pore. Therefore, an IbTX double mutant (IbTX-D19Y/Y36F) was engineered, expressed in Escherichia coli, purified to homogeneity, and radiolabeled to high specific activity with 125I. IbTX-D19Y/Y36F and [127I]IbTX-D19Y/Y36F block maxi-K channels expressed in Xenopus laevis oocytes with equal potency as wild-type IbTX (Kd approximately 1 nM). Under low ionic strength conditions, [125I]IbTX-D19Y/Y36F binds with high affinity to smooth muscle sarcolemmal maxi-K channels (Kd of 5 pM as determined by either equilibrium binding or kinetic binding analysis), and with a binding site density of 0.45 pmol/mg of protein. Competition studies with wild-type IbTX, IbTX-D19Y/Y36F or charybdotoxin (ChTX) result in complete inhibition of binding whereas toxins selective for voltage-gated K+ channels (margatoxin (MgTX) or alpha-dendrotoxin (alpha-DaTX) do not have any effect on IbTX binding. Indole diterpene alkaloids, which are selective inhibitors of maxi-K channels, and potassium ions both modulate [125I]IbTX-D19Y/Y36F binding in a complex manner. This pattern is also reflected during covalent incorporation of the radiolabeled toxin into the 31 kDa beta-subunit of the maxi-K channel in the presence of a bifunctional cross-linking reagent. In rat brain membranes, IbTX-D19Y/Y36F does not displace binding of [125I]MgTX or [125I]-alpha-DaTX to sites associated with voltage-gated K+ channels, nor do these latter toxins inhibit [125I]IbTX-D19Y/Y36F binding. Taken together, these results demonstrate that [125I]IbTX-D19Y/Y36F is the first selective radioligand for maxi-K channels with high specific activity.