1. The kinetics and ion transfer characteristics of the hyperpolarization-activated inward current, I(f), have been studied in single cells obtained by enzymatic dispersion from the rabbit sino-atrial (S-A) node. These experiments were done to assess the role of I(f) in the generation of the pacemaker depolarization in the S-A node. 2. The activation and the deactivation of I(f) in these single cells are accompanied by significant conductance increases and decreases respectively, confirming earlier findings from multicellular man-made strips of rabbit S-A node, and from mammalian Purkinje fibres. 3. The steady-state activation of I(f) lies between -40 and -120 mV, and its voltage dependence can be described by a Boltzmann relation with the half-activation point at approximately -70 mV. 4. The delay or sigmoidicity in both the onset of I(f) and the deactivation of the tail currents can be accounted for semi-quantitatively by using a second-order Hodgkin-Huxley kinetic scheme. 5. The reversal potential for I(f) is -24 +/- 2 mV (mean +/- S.E.M., n = 6). It does not change significantly as a function of the amount of I(f) which is activated, indicating that ion accumulation or depletion phenomena are not important variables controlling the time course of I(f), or its selectivity. 6. The fully-activated current-voltage relationship for I(f) is approximately linear with a slope conductance of 12.0 +/- 0.88 nS per cell (mean +/- S.E.M., n = 6). 7. A simple mathematical model based on the measured values of maximum conductance, reversal potential, and kinetics of I(f) has been developed to simulate the size and time course of I(f) during typical spontaneous pacemaker activity in rabbit sino-atrial node cells. The calculations show that I(f) can change significantly during pacing and suggest that this current change is, at least in part, responsible for the pacemaker depolarization.