The potassium channel toxin secreted by the sea anemone Bunodosoma granulifera (BgK) is a 37-amino-acid peptide containing three disulfide bridges. Because a synthetic peptide corresponding to the reported sequence of BgK was found not to fold properly, the sequence was determined again. The new sequence differed from the previous one in the C-terminal tetrapeptide, which contains two cysteines involved in disulfide bridging. The revised sequence is: V C R D W F K E T A C R H A K S L G N C R T S Q K Y R A N C A K T C E L C. The toxin BgK was synthesized according to the new sequence and folded successfully. Disulfide bridges were assigned by peptide mapping on both natural and synthetic forms to be between Cys2-Cys37, Cys11-Cys30 and Cys20-Cys34. The toxin contains a C-terminal free carboxylate as shown by comparing the native toxin with two synthetic peptides containing the C-terminus in either the carboxylate or carboxamido form. Synthetic BgK inhibits binding of 125I-alpha-dendrotoxin to rat brain synaptosomal membranes, similarly to natural BgK (nanomolar range). No activity was observed on maxi-K+ channels incorporated into planar lipid bilayers. The ability of BgK to block voltage-dependent K+ channels was determined from recordings of whole cell currents in Xenopus oocytes injected with cRNA encoding three cloned Kv1 channels (Kv1.1, Kv1.2, Kv1.3) and one Kv3 (Kv3.1) channel. The Shaker-related Kv1 channels are equally affected by BgK, while the Shaw-related channel Kv3.1 is insensitive up to 0.125 microM toxin. Indeed, half blockage of the current through the three Kv1 channels tested occurred in the same concentration range (Kd = 6 nM for Kv1.1, 15 nM for Kv1.2, 10 nM for Kv1.3). The specificity of BgK for the Shaker-related K+ channels indicates that BgK is able to discriminate a large group of neuronal Kv1 channels in situ. The sequence, the disulfide bridge pattern, the secondary structure and the biological activity of BgK demonstrated that the sea anemone toxins, i.e. BgK, ShK and Kaliseptine, constitute novel molecular probes useful for investigating K+ channel properties.