The Shaw subfamily of potassium channel genes, including Kv3.1, are highly expressed within the auditory nuclei of the brainstem, where they have been implicated in the characteristic response properties of particular types of neurons. Potassium currents carried by Kv3.1 are voltage-dependent, have a high activation threshold, are slow to inactivate, and are very sensitive to 4-aminopyridine (4-AP) and tetraethylammonium (TEA). We have investigated the developmental appearance of potassium currents in cell cultures from nucleus magnocellularis and its precursor neuroblasts from the acoustico-vestibular anlage of the chicken. Whole-cell patch recordings revealed that high-threshold, sustained, outward currents were present in 91% of neuroblasts. These currents displayed high sensitivities to TEA and 4-AP. The remaining 9% of neuroblasts exhibited only transient outward currents. Most cells (74%) had both a sustained and an initial transient component of outward current. These current types were observed throughout embryogenesis, beginning with the earliest ages (embryonic day [E]2). During proliferation and migration, and early neuronal differentiation, current levels were low; they incremented gradually during the time when the first synapses occur on dendrites and increased 2- to 3-fold just before hatching, when axosomatic synapses form. These findings suggest that the Shaw subfamily of channels in nucleus magnocellularis may be involved in early neuronal development, as well as in synaptic function later on.