The observation that voltage-dependent K+ channels are required for activation of human T lymphocytes suggests that pathological conditions involving abnormal mitogen responses might be reflected in ion channel abnormalities. Gigaohm seal techniques were used to study T cells from MRL/MpJ-lpr/lpr mice; these mice develop generalized lymphoproliferation of functionally and phenotypically abnormal T cells and a disease resembling human systemic lupus erythematosus. The number and predominant type of K+ channels in T cells from these mice differ dramatically from those in T cells from control strains and a congenic strain lacking the lpr gene locus. Thus an abnormal pattern of ion channel expression has now been associated with a genetic defect in cells of the immune system.