1. In this study we characterized the responses of neocortical neurons to iontophoretically applied γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and examined how these GABA responses as well as the inhibitory postsynaptic potentials (IPSPs) were affected by the presence of penicillin or pentobarbital. Intracellular recordings were obtained from slices of rat neocortex maintained in vitro; injection of the dye Lucifer yellow indicated that recordings were primarily from pyramidal neurons. 2. Orthodromically evoked responses were always depolarizing at the cell's resting membrane potential. Such depolarizing responses could easily be reversed in polarity by depolarizing the cell 10-15 mV, suggesting that the response consisted partly of an IPSP. In some cases, depolarization unmasked a small, short-latency excitatory postsynaptic potential (EPSP). Responses to iontophoretically applied GABA were also depolarizing at rest. Biphasic hyperpolarizing-depolarizing responses were occasionally observed upon depolarization of the neuron. 3. Bath application of penicillin (1.7-3.4 m M) decreased the amplitude of the IPSPs and increased their time to peak, an effect associated with the development of epileptiform activity. Penicillin also reduced the maximum response to iontophoretically applied GABA without affecting the dose required to obtain a half-maximal response, suggesting a noncompetitive antagonism. 4. Pentobarbital (100-200 μM) prolonged the time course and increased the amplitude of the IPSPs while producing a leftward shift in the GABA charge-response relation. These results suggest that the convulsant penicillin and the anticonvulsant pentobarbital have opposing actions on GABAergic inhibition in the neocortex. © 1984 Plenum Publishing Corporation.