Endogenous voltage-gated potassium currents were investigated in human embryonic kidney (HEK293) and Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells using whole-cell voltage clamp recording. Depolarizing voltage steps from -70 mV triggered an outwardly rectified current in nontransfected HEK293 cells. This current had an amplitude of 296 pA at +40 mV and a current density of 19.2 pA/pF. The outward current was eliminated by replacing internal K+ with Cs+ and suppressed by the K+ channel blockers tetraethylammonium and 4-aminopyridine. Raising external K+ attenuated the outward current and shifted the reversal potential towards positive potentials as predicted by the Nernst equation. The current had a fast activation phase but inactivated slowly. These features implicate delayed rectifier (I(K))-like channels as mediators of the observed current, which was comparable in size to I(K) currents in many other cells. A small native inward rectifier current but no transient outward current I(A), the M current I(M), or Ca2+-dependent K+ currents were detected in HEK293 cells. In contrast to these findings in HEK293 cells, little or no I(K)-like current was detected in CHO cells. The difference in endogenous voltage-activated currents in HEK293 and CHO cells suggest that CHO cell lines are a preferred system for exogenous K+ channel expression.