Olfactory learning in young rats correlates with neural plasticity in the olfactory bulb, and involves noradrenergic modulation of reciprocal dendrodendritic synapses between mitral cells and GABAergic granule cells. The purpose of this study was to examine, in vivo, the consequences of manipulating bulbar GABA transmission during training. In the first experiment, postnatal day 11 rat pups were trained in an olfactory associative learning task with citral odor and foot shock as the conditioned and unconditioned stimuli, respectively. The pups received continuous infusion of saline or the GABA(A) receptor agonist muscimol into the olfactory bulbs throughout a 30-min training session. The pups were then tested on postnatal day 12 for a preference for or an aversion to citral odor. Saline-infused control pups developed an aversion to citral odor. The GABA(A) receptor agonist muscimol impaired this aversive learning in a dose-dependent manner. In the second experiment, pups were exposed to the odor for 30 min while receiving continuous intrabulbar infusion of a low or high dose of the GABA(A) receptor antagonist bicuculline, without any other reinforcer. Depending on whether a low (0.2 nmol/bulb) or high (1.0 nmol/bulb) dose of bicuculline was infused, the pups showed a preference or an aversion for citral odor after infusion of low and high doses, respectively. These results indicate that disinhibition of mitral cells in the olfactory bulb is critical for olfactory learning in young rats, and suggest that the degree of disinhibition is an important determinant in acquiring either preference or aversion for the conditioned odor.