Spontaneous, single channel, chloride currents were recorded in 48% of cell-attached patches on neurones in the CA1 region of rat hippocampal slices. In some patches, there was more than 1 channel active. They showed outward rectification: both channel conductance and open probability were greater at depolarized than at hyperpolarized potentials. Channels activated by gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in silent patches on the same neurones had similar conductance and outward rectification. The spontaneous currents were inhibited by bicuculline and potentiated by diazepam. It was concluded that the spontaneously opening channels were constitutively active, nonsynaptic GABA(A) channels. Such spontaneously opening GABA(A) channels may provide a tonic inhibitory mechanism in these cells and perhaps in other cells that have GABA(A) receptors although not having a GABA(A) synaptic input. They may also be a target for clinically useful drugs such as the benzodiazepines.