1. Ion channels and their possible relation to cell proliferation have been studied in a human melanoma cell line (IGR 1). Membrane currents were recorded by the patch-clamp technique using the cell-attached, cell-free and whole-cell mode. Cell growth was monitored by counting the number of cells at different days after seeding and [3H]thymidine incorporation. 2. A voltage-dependent 10 pS non-inactivating potassium channel (delayed rectifier) is the most commonly observed ion channel in this type of human cell. The channel is active at the normal resting potential and can be blocked by tetraethylammonium chloride (TEA) and also by a membrane-permeable cyclic adenosine monophosphate (8-(4-chlorophenylthio)adenosine 3',5'-cyclic monophosphate, cyclic AMP). A second type of potassium channel shows properties similar to voltage-dependent A-type potassium channels with complete inactivation. 3. A voltage-independent, non-selective cation channel with a single-channel conductance of approximately 20 pS could be seen in only 8% of the patches. Its properties of modulation are still unknown. 4. The incidence of the 10 pS, non-inactivated potassium channel was maximal at the fourth day after seeding (in 89% of the patches) and was significantly reduced at the seventh day (in 35% of the patches). 5. [3H]thymidine incorporation is maximal at the third day after seeding and is reduced when cells are grown in the presence of TEA or cyclic AMP. This peak of maximal [3H]thymidine incorporation correlated with the incidence of non-inactivated potassium channels. 6. In the presence of TEA or cyclic AMP, growth of the cells is inhibited. We suppose that due to block of potassium channels, most of the melanoma cells are not able to enter the S-phase in the cell division cycle. 7. It is concluded that delayed rectifier potassium channels are involved in the control of melanoma cell proliferation. A similar finding has been reported for K+ channels in T-lymphocytes and human breast carcinoma cells. It is suggested that potassium channels may be involved in controlling the driving force for a calcium influx thereby interacting with Ca(2+)-dependent cell cycle control proteins.