The structural determinants for the voltage-dependent block of ion channels are poorly understood. Here we investigate the voltage-dependent block of wild-type and mutant human ether-a-go-go related gene (HERG) K(+) channels by the antimalarial compound chloroquine. The block of wild-type HERG channels expressed in Xenopus oocytes was enhanced as the membrane potential was progressively depolarized. The IC(50) was 8.4 +/- 0.9 microm when assessed during 4-s voltage clamp pulses to 0 mV. Chloroquine also slowed the apparent rate of HERG deactivation, reflecting the inability of drug-bound channels to close. Mutation to alanine of aromatic residues (Tyr-652 or Phe-656) located in the S6 domain of HERG greatly reduced the potency of channel block by chloroquine (IC(50) > 1 mm at 0 mV). However, mutation of Tyr-652 also altered the voltage dependence of the block. In contrast to wild-type HERG, block of Y652A HERG channels was diminished by progressive membrane depolarization, and complete relief from block was observed at +40 mV. HERG channel block was voltage-independent when the hydroxyl group of Tyr-652 was removed by mutating the residue to Phe. Together these findings indicate a critical role for Tyr-652 in voltage-dependent block of HERG channels. Molecular modeling was used to define energy-minimized dockings of chloroquine to the central cavity of HERG. Our experimental findings and modeling suggest that chloroquine preferentially blocks open HERG channels by cation-pi and pi-stacking interactions with Tyr-652 and Phe-656 of multiple subunits.