The effect of low concentrations of barium on the membrane properties of rat neocortical neurons was studied in vitro. Potassium currents were examined using single-electrode current- and voltage-clamp techniques. Neurons responded to bath application of barium (10-100 μM) with a membrane depolarization associated with an increase in input resistance. Under voltage clamp conditions, an inward shift in holding current was observed. The effects of barium were rapidly reversible upon washing and persisted in the presence of TTX. The equilibrium potential for the barium-induced inward current was near -110 mV, suggesting that barium inhibited a tonically active potassium conductance. Measurements of current voltage relationships indicated an inward rectification of this conductance between -50 and -130 mV. These results provide strong evidence that barium blocks a persistent potassium 'leak' current in neocortical neurons that contributes to the resting potential of these cells. © 1993.