Sodium currents were studied under voltage clamp in the presence of neutral, amine, and quaternary local anesthetic compounds. Use-dependent block was observed as a cumulative depression of INa seen with repetitive depolarizing test pulses applied at frequencies of 2-10s-1. With quaternary QX-314, the time constant of use dependence was long, and with neutral benzocaine, very short. With lidocaine and procaine, increasing external pH (pHo) changed the time constant from long to short, but alterations of internal pH have no effect. Inactivation in Na channels was measured by the influence of prepulses on peak INa during test pulses. Single-stimulus inactivation curves were shifted more with lidocaine at high pHo than at low pHo, but inactivation curves measured during pulse trains with any of the drugs and at any pHo were strongly shifted. All measurements show that the drug-receptor reaction was slow for amine drugs at low pHo, as for quaternary drugs at any pHo, and fast for amine drugs at high pHo, as for neutral drugs at any pHo. The major effect of low pHo on amine drugs was to reduce the concentration of drugs in the fiber and to protonate drug molecules on the receptor, thus trapping them in the blocking position for a longer time. Direct effects of pH on the receptor seemed minimal.