1. The effects of a mutation in the human ether-a-go-go-related gene (HERG) (Ser631 to Ala, S631A) on the voltage- and extracellular [K+] dependence of inactivation were studied in Xenopus oocytes using two microelectrode and single channel voltage-clamp techniques. 2. The voltage required for half-inactivation of S631A HERG was 102 mV more positive than for wild-type (WT)-HERG, resulting in reduced rectification of the steady-state current-voltage relationship. In contrast, the voltage dependence of channel activation was not altered by the S631A mutation. These findings indicate that inactivation of HERG channels is not linked to activation. 3. Rectification of whole-cell S631A HERG current was caused by a voltage-dependent reduction in open probability, and inward rectification of the current-voltage relationship of single channels. 4. Elevation of extracellular [K+] from 2 to 20 mM shifted the half-point for inactivation by +20 mV for WT-HERG, and +25 mV for S631A HERG. Thus, elevated [K+]o and the S631A mutation affect HERG inactivation by different mechanisms. 5. The S631A mutation altered the ion translocation rate of HERG channels. The single channel conductance (gamma) of S631A HERG was 20 pS between -40 and-100 mV, and 6.0 pS between +40 and +100 mV (120 mM extracellular K+). This compares to a gamma of 12.1 and 5.1 pS for WT-HERG channels under the same conditions.