A hyperpolarization-activated cation conductance contributes to the membrane properties of a variety of cell types. In the thalamus, a prominent hyperpolarization-activated cation conductance exists in thalamocortical cells, and this current is implicated in the neuromodulation of complex firing behaviors. In contrast, the GABAergic cells in the reticular nucleus in the thalamus appear to lack this conductance. The presence and role of this cation conductance in the other type of thalamic GABAergic cells, local interneurons, is still unclear. To resolve this issue, we studied 54 physiologically and morphologically identified local interneurons in the rat dorsal lateral geniculate nucleus using an in vitro whole-cell patch recording technique. We found that hyperpolarizing current injections induced depolarizing voltage sags in these geniculate interneurons. The I-V relationship revealed an inward rectification. Voltage-clamp study indicated that a slow, hyperpolarization-activated cation conductance was responsible for the inward rectification. We then confirmed that this slow conductance had properties of the hyperpolarization-activated cation conductance described in other cell types. The slow conductance was insensitive to 10 mM tetraethylammonium and 0.5 mM 4-aminopyridine, but was largely blocked by 1-1.5 mM Cs+. It was permeable to both K+ and Na+ ions and had a reversal potential of -44 mV. The voltage dependence of the hyperpolarization-activated cation conductance in interneurons was also studied: the activation threshold was about -55 mV, half-activation potential was about -80 mV and maximal conductance was about 1 nS. The activation and deactivation time constants of the conductance ranged from 100 to 1000 ms, depending on membrane potential. The depolarizing voltage sags and I-V relationship were further simulated in a model interneuron, using the parameters of the hyperpolarization-activated cation conductance obtained from the voltage-clamp study. The time-course and voltage dependence of the depolarizing voltage sags and I-V relationship in the model cell were very similar to those found in geniculate interneurons in current clamp. Taken together, the results of the present study suggest that thalamic local interneurons possess a prominent hyperpolarization-activated cation conductance, which may play important roles in determining basic membrane properties and in modulating firing patterns.