Oscillatory firing patterns are an intrinsic property of some neurons and have an important function in information processing. In some cells, low voltage-activated calcium channels have been proposed to underlie a depolarizing potential that regulates bursting. The sequence of a rat brain calcium channel α_1 subunit (rbE-II) was deduced. Although it is structurally related to high voltage-activated calcium channels, the rbE-II channel transiently activated at negative membrane potentials, required a strong hyperpolarization to deinactivate, and was highly sensitive to block by nickel. In situ hybridization showed that rbE-II messenger RNA is expressed in regions throughout the central nervous system. The electrophysiological properties of the rbE-II current are consistent with a type of low voltage-activated calcium channel that requires membrane hyperpolarization for maximal activity, which suggests that rbE-II may be involved in the modulation of firing patterns.