The antiepileptic efficacy of topiramate (TPM) has been demonstrated in both whole animal seizure models and clinical trials; however, there is no consensus concerning its mechanism of action. We determined first whether the antiepileptic effect of TPM generalized to in vitro seizure models. Epileptiform discharges, recorded extracellularly, were evoked by repeated tetanic stimulation of Schaffer collaterals and layer III association fibers in entorhinal cortex/hippocampus and piriform cortex slices, respectively. TPM was applied at concentrations of 20 or 100 microM. Whole cell recordings were made from CA1 pyramidal neurons and the effect of TPM was assessed on a variety of intrinsic membrane properties including resting membrane potential, input resistance and postspike potentials. TPM (20 microM) was without effect in entorhinal cortex/hippocampus (N=6); however, 100 microM TPM decreased significantly the Coastline Burst Index from 358.3+/-65.8 to 225. 5+/-77.1 (N=4), the frequency of spontaneous epileptiform discharges to 44.6+/-21.8 (N=5) and the duration of primary afterdischarge (PAD) to 65.9+/-10.1 (N=10) percent of control. In contrast, phenytoin (50 microM, N=7; 100 microM, N=8) reduced PAD to 96.9+/-14. 8 and 86.5+/-17.3 percent of control, respectively. TPM (100 microM) did not reduce significantly the frequency of spontaneous discharges in piriform cortex (85.4+/-12.3 percent of control; N=5). TPM (100 microM) was without significant effect on intrinsic membrane properties in CA1 pyramidal neurons. Likely candidate mechanisms underlying the antiepileptic effect produced by TPM include enhancement of chloride-mediated GABA(A) currents and reduction of kainate and L-type calcium currents.