Several calcium-dependent potassium currents can contribute to the electrophysiological properties of neurons. In hippocampal pyramidal cells, 2 afterhyperpolarizations (AHPs) are mediated by different calcium-activated potassium currents. First, a rapidly activated current contributes to action-potential repolarization and the fast AHP following individual action potentials. In addition, a slowly developing current underlies the slow AHP, which occurs after a burst of action potentials and contributes substantially to the spike- frequency accommodation observed in these cells during a prolonged depolarizing current pulse. In order to investigate the single Ca2(+)- dependent channels that might underlie these currents, we performed patch-clamp experiments on hippocampal neurons in primary culture. When excised inside-out patches were exposed to 1 microM Ca2+, 2 types of channel activity were observed. In symmetrical bathing solutions containing 140 mM K+, the channels had conductances of 19 pS and 220 pS, and both were permeable mainly to potassium ions. The properties of these 2 channels differed in a number of ways. At negative membrane potentials, the small-conductance channels were more sensitive to Ca2+ than the large channels. At positive potentials, the small-conductance channels displayed a flickery block by Mg2+ ions on the cytoplasmic face of the membrane. Low concentrations of tetraethylammonium (TEA) on the extracellular face of the membrane specifically caused an apparent reduction of the large-channel conductance. The properties of the large- and small-conductance channels are in accord with those of the fast and slow AHP, respectively.