High-affinity mu-conotoxin block of skeletal muscle Na+ channels depends on an arginine at position 13 (Arg-13). To understand both the mechanism of toxin interaction and the general structure of its binding site in the channel mouth, we examined by thermodynamic mutant cycle analysis the interaction between the critical Arg-13 and amino acid residues known to be in the channel's outer vestibule. Arg-13 interacts specifically with domain II Glu-758 with energy of about -3.0 kcal/mol, including both electrostatic and nonelectrostatic components, and with Glu-403 with energy of about -2.0 kcal/mol. Interactions with the other charged residues in the outer vestibule were shown to be almost entirely electrostatic, because these interactions were maintained when Arg-13 was replaced by lysine. These results place the bound Arg-13 at the channel mouth adjacent to the P (pore) loops of domains I and II. Distance estimates based on interaction energies suggest that the charged vestibule residues are in relative positions similar to those of the Lipkind-Fozzard vestibule model [Lipkind, G. M., and Fozzard, H. A. (1994) Biophys. J. 66, 1-13]. Kinetic analysis suggests that Arg-13 interactions are partially formed in the ligand-channel transition state.