GABA release and uptake were examined in Genetic Absence Epilepsy Rats from Strasbourg and in non-epileptic control animals, using crude synaptosomes prepared from the cerebral cortex and thalamus. Uptake of [3H]GABA over time was reduced in thalamic synaptosomes from epileptic rats, compared to controls. The affinity of the uptake process in thalamic synaptosomes was lower in epileptic animals. NNC-711, a ligand for the GAT-1 uptake protein, reduced synaptosomal uptake by more than 95%; beta-alanine, an inhibitor selective for the uptake proteins GAT-2 and -3, did not significantly reduce synaptosomal uptake. Autoradiography studies using [3H]tiagabine, a ligand selective for GAT-1, revealed no differences between the strains in either affinity or levels of binding. Ethanolamine O-sulphate (100 microM), a selective inhibitor of GABA-transaminase, did not affect uptake levels. Aminooxyacetic acid (10-100 microM), an inhibitor of GABA-transaminase and, to a lesser extent, glutamate decarboxylase, caused an increase in measured uptake in both thalamic and cortical synaptosomes, in both strains. We found no difference in in vitro basal or KCl-stimulated endogenous GABA release between epileptic and control rats. These results indicate that GABA uptake in the thalamus of Genetic Absence Epilepsy Rats from Strasbourg was reduced, compared to control animals. The lower uptake affinity in the epileptic animals probably contributed to the reduction in uptake over time. Uptake appeared to be mediated primarily by the 'neuronal' transporter GAT-1. Autoradiography studies revealed no differences in the number or affinity of this uptake protein. It is therefore possible that altered functional modulation of GAT-1 caused the decrease in uptake shown in the epileptic animals. Inhibition of GABA-transaminase activity had no effect on measured GABA uptake, whereas a reduction in glutamate decarboxylase activity may have affected measured uptake levels.