Fast Na+ channel inactivation is thought to involve binding of phenylalanine 1489 in the hydrophobic cluster IFM in LIII-IV of the rat brain type IIA Na+ channel. We have analyzed macroscopic and single channel currents from Na+ channels with mutations within and adjacent to hydrophobic clusters in LIII-IV. Substitution of F1489 by a series of amino acids disrupted inactivation to different extents. The degree of disruption was closely correlated with the hydrophilicity of the amino acid at position 1489. These mutations dramatically destabilized the inactivated state and also significantly slowed the entry into the inactivated state, consistent with the idea that F1489 forms a hydrophobic interaction with a putative receptor during the fast inactivation process. Substitution of a phe residue at position 1488 or 1490 in mutants lacking F1489 did not restore normal inactivation, indicating that precise location of F1489 is critical for its function. Mutations of T1491 disrupted inactivation substantially, with large effects on the stability of the inactivated state and smaller effects on the rate of entry into the inactivated state. Mutations of several other hydrophobic residues did not destabilize the inactivated state at depolarized potentials, indicating that the effects of mutations at F1489 and T1491 are specific. The double mutant YY1497/8QQ slowed macroscopic inactivation at all potentials and accelerated recovery from inactivation at negative membrane potentials. Some of these mutations in LIII-IV also affected the latency to first opening, indicating coupling between LIII-IV and channel activation. Our results show that the amino acid residues of the IFM hydrophobic cluster and the adjacent T1491 are unique in contributing to the stability of the inactivated state, consistent with the designation of these residues as components of the inactivation particle responsible for fast inactivation of Na+ channels.