Intra- and extracellular recordings were obtained from the CA1 region of guinea pig hippocampal slices maintained in vitro. We studied the effect of reducing the extracellular sodium concentration on penicillin-induced epileptiform responses. In control experiments, Tris and choline were assayed as sodium substitutes. Choline was found unsuitable, since it induced repetitive firing in the absence of any convulsant agent. Replacement of 50% of the extracellular sodium ([Na+]o) with Tris reduced the amplitude of the presynaptic fiber volley, the field EPSP, and the population spike. Intracellular studies showed that when [Na+]o was lowered, action-potential amplitudes were reversibly depressed by an amount close to that predicted by the Nernst relation. Orthodromically elicited epileptiform discharges, induced by penicillin, were reduced in a low-sodium medium when constant stimulus currents were employed. If orthodromic stimulus strengths in normal and low-sodium states were equated on the basis of the field-EPSP amplitude, no significant diminution of the depolarizing-wave component of the epileptiform response was observed. These results suggest that a synaptic component underlies penicillin-induced epileptiform discharges. © 1982 Springer-Verlag.