Cultured cerebellar granule neurons (CGN) are commonly used to assess neurotoxicity, but are routinely maintained in supraphysiological (25 mM) extracellular K(+) concentrations [K(+)](o). We investigated the effect of potassium channel blockade on survival of CGN derived from Swiss-Webster mice in supraphysiological (25 mM) and physiological (5.6 mM) [K(+)](o). CGN were cultured for 5 days in 25 mM K(+), then in 5.6 mM K(+) or 25 mM K(+) (control). Viability, assayed 24 h later by 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazolyl-2)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide (MTT) reduction and by lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) release, was approximately 50% in 5.6 mM K(+) versus 25 mM K(+) (p.001), but nifedipine did not attenuate neuroprotection by K(+) channel blockers. Together, these results suggest that the survival of CGN depends on the K(+) permeability of the membrane rather than the activity of a particular type of K(+) channel, and that the mechanism of neuroprotection by K(+) channel blockers is different from that of elevated [K(+)](o).