The cerebellar Purkinje neuron cultured from 20 d rat embryos is electrically inexcitable when immature, and acquires excitable membrane properties according to a programmed developmental sequence, thus providing a useful model for investigating mechanisms of CNS neuronal development. Using conventional patch-clamp techniques, we have characterized the the predominant classes of active K+-selective channels at a range of ages encompassing the entire developmental process from 5 to 29 d in vitro (DIV), and have shown pharmacologically that these channels are important contributors to the patterns of spontaneous activity generated by the Purkinje neurons. The 4 predominant classes of K+ channels that are active during steady-state depolarizing voltage commands are identified by unit conductances as the 27, 44, 70, and 100 pS channels, and show differences in several properties, including voltage dependence, sensitivity to tetraethylammonium chloride (TEA), mean open time, and time of appearance during development. Intracellular current-clamp recordings show that physiological maturation of the Purkinje neuron entails increases in the firing rate, the diversity of spike events that comprise spontaneous activity, and the sensitivity of spontaneous activity to disruption by the K+ channel blocker TEA. This increase in sensitivity to TEA correlates with the new expression of activity of the larger-conductance TEA-sensitive classes of K+ channel (70 and 100 pS types). These data show that developmental regulation of the activity of K+-selective channels contributes significantly to the ionic mechanisms that underlie the developmental transitions in spontaneous activity patterns in the Purkinje neuron.