1. The inhibitory neurotransmitter glycine can elicit depolarizing responses in immature neurones. We investigated the changes in glycine responses and their ionic mechanism in developing neurones of the rat lateral superior olive (LSO), an auditory brainstem nucleus involved in sound localization. 2. Whole-cell and gramicidin perforated-patch recordings were performed from visually identified LSO neurones in brain slices and glycine was pressure applied for 3-100 ms to the soma. Glycine-evoked currents were reversibly blocked by strychnine. They were mostly monophasic, but biphasic responses occurred in approximately 30 % of P8-11 neurones in perforated-patch recordings. 3. In whole-cell recordings from P2-11 neurones, the reversal potential of glycine-evoked currents (EGly) was determined by the transmembranous Cl- gradient and corresponded closely to the Nernst potential for Cl-, regardless of age. This indicates that Cl- is the principle ion permeating glycine receptors, but is also consistent with a low relative (10-20 %) permeability for HCO3-. The Cl- gradient also determined the polarity and amplitude of glycine-evoked membrane potential changes. 4. Leaving the native intracellular [Cl-] undisturbed with gramicidin perforated-patch recordings, we found a highly significant, age-dependent change of EGly from -46.8 +/- 1.8 mV (P1-4, n = 28) to -67.6 +/- 3.3 mV (P5-8, n = 10) to -82.2 +/- 4.1 mV (P9-11, n = 18). The majority of P1-4 neurones were depolarized by glycine ( approximately 80 %) and spikes were evoked in approximately 30 %. In contrast, P9-11 neurones were hyperpolarized. 5. In perforated-patch recordings, EGly was influenced by the voltage protocol and the glycine application interval; it could be shifted in the positive and negative direction. For a given application interval, these shifts were always larger in P1-4 than in P8-11 neurones, pointing to less effective Cl- regulation mechanisms in younger neurones. 6. Furosemide (frusemide), a blocker of cation-Cl- cotransporters, reversibly shifted EGly in the negative direction in P2-4 neurones, yet in the positive direction in P8-10 neurones, suggesting the blockade of net inward and net outward Cl- transporters, respectively. 7. Taken together, age-dependent changes in active Cl- regulation are likely to cause the developmental shift from depolarizing to hyperpolarizing glycine responses. A high intracellular [Cl-] is generated in neonatal LSO neurones which decreases during maturation.