Voltage-dependent gating behavior of Shaker potassium channels without N-type inactivation (ShB delta 6-46) expressed in Xenopus oocytes was studied. The voltage dependence of the steady-state open probability indicated that the activation process involves the movement of the equivalent of 12-16 electronic charges across the membrane. The sigmoidal kinetics of the activation process, which is maintained at depolarized voltages up to at least +100 mV indicate the presence of at least five sequential conformational changes before opening. The voltage dependence of the gating charge movement suggested that each elementary transition involves 3.5 electronic charges. The voltage dependence of the forward opening rate, as estimated by the single- channel first latency distribution, the final phase of the macroscopic ionic current activation, the ionic current reactivation and the ON gating current time course, showed movement of the equivalent of 0.3 to 0.5 electronic charges were associated with a large number of the activation transitions. The equivalent charge movement of 1.1 electronic charges was associated with the closing conformational change. The results were generally consistent with models involving a number of independent and identical transitions with a major exception that the first closing transition is slower than expected as indicated by tail current and OFF gating charge measurements.