The gating kinetics of batrachotoxin-modified Na+ channels were studied in outside-out patches of axolemma from the squid giant axon by means of the cut-open axon technique. Single channel kinetics were characterized at different membrane voltages and temperatures. The probability of channel opening (Po) as a function of voltage was well described by a Boltzmann distribution with an equivalent number of gating particles of 3.58. The voltage at which the channel was open 50% of the time was a function of [Na+] and temperature. A decrease in the internal [Na+] induced a shift to the right of the Po vs. V curve, suggesting the presence of an integral negative fixed charge near the activation gate. An increase in temperature decreased Po, indicating a stabilization of the closed configuration of the channel and also a decrease in entropy upon channel opening. Probability density analysis of dwell times in the closed and open states of the channel at 0 degrees C revealed the presence of three closed and three open states. The slowest open kinetic component constituted only a small fraction of the total number of transitions and became negligible at voltages greater than -65 mV. Adjacent interval analysis showed that there is no correlation in the duration of successive open and closed events. Consistent with this analysis, maximum likelihood estimation of the rate constants for nine different single-channel models produced a preferred model (model 1) having a linear sequence of closed states and two open states emerging from the last closed state. The effect of temperature on the rate constants of model 1 was studied. An increase in temperature increased all rate constants; the shift in Po would be the result of an increase in the closing rates predominant over the change in the opening rates. The temperature study also provided the basis for building an energy diagram for the transitions between channel states.