The voltage-dependent K+ channel was examined in enzymatically isolated guinea pig hepatocytes using whole-cell, excised outside-out and inside- out configurations of the patch-clamp technique. The resting membrane potential in isolated hepatocytes was -25.3 +/- 4.9 mV (n = 40). Under the whole-cell voltage-clamp, the time-dependent delayed rectifier outward current was observed at membrane potentials positive to -20 mV at physiological temperature (37 degrees C). The reversal potential of the current, as determined from tail current measurements, shifted by approximately 57 mV per 10-fold change in the external K+ concentration. In addition, the current did not appear when K+ was replaced with Cs+ in the internal and external solutions, indicating that the current was carried by K+ ions. The envelope test of the tails demonstrated that the growth of the tail current followed that of the current activation. The ratio between the activated current and the tail amplitude was constant during the depolarizing step. The time course of growth and deactivation of the tail current were best described by a double exponential function. The current was suppressed in Ca(2+)-free, 5 mM EGTA internal or external solution (pCa > 9). The activation curve (P infinity curve) was not shifted by changing the internal Ca2+ concentration ([Ca2+]i). The current was inhibited by bath application of 4-aminopyridine or apamin. alpha 1-Adrenergic stimulation with noradrenaline enhanced the current but beta-adrenergic stimulation with isoproterenol had no effect on the current. In single- channel recordings from outside-out patches, unitary current activity was observed by depolarizing voltage-clamp steps whose slope conductance was 9.5 +/- 2.2 pS (n = 10). The open time distribution was best described by a single exponential function with the mean open lifetime of 18.5 +/- 2.6 ms (n = 14), while at least two exponentials were required to fit the closed time distributions with a time constant for the fast component of 2.0 +/- 0.3 ms (n = 14) and that for the slow component of 47.7 +/- 5.9 ms (n = 14). Ensemble averaged current exhibited delayed rectifier nature which was consistent with whole-cell measurements. In excised inside-out patch recordings, channel open probability was sensitive to [Ca2+]i. The concentration of Ca2+ at the half-maximal activation was 0.031 microM. These results suggest that guinea pig hepatocytes possess voltage-gated delayed rectifier K+ channels which are modified by intracellular Ca2+.