1. Using conventional microelectrode techniques a biphasic effect of tetraethylammonium (5 mmol/l) on the configuration of action potentials recorded from isolated canine Purkinje fibres: action potentials were first shortened (early effect) and then lengthened (late effect) by tetraethylammonium. 2. The early effect of tetraethylammonium also included lengthening of phase 1 duration and elevation of the plateau amplitude. These early effects reached steady-state within the first 3 min of superfusion and were readily reversed within 3 min of initiating washout of the drug. 3. The late effect (gradual lengthening of repolarisation during phase 3) failed to reach steady-state within the initial 60 min of superfusion and was not reversible. 4. The early effects of tetraethylammonium were more marked at slow driving rates and were not affected by blockade of alpha- and beta-adrenoceptors using 1 mumol/l phentolamine and 1 mumol/l propranolol. 5. The early effects of tetraethylammonium were mimicked by 4-aminopyridine (0.5 mmol/l), and in the presence of 4-aminopyridine tetraethylammonium failed to induce further changes in action potential morphology. 6. The early effects of tetraethylammonium may be due to inhibition of the transient outward current. 7. The rapid onset and reversibility of these early effects suggest that tetraethylammonium may act from outside the cell membrane.