Slices of rat hippocampus were exposed to 700 MHz continuous wave radiofrequency (RF) fields (25.2-71.0 V m(-1), 5-15 min exposure) in a stripline waveguide. At low field intensities, the predominant effect on the electrically evoked field potential in CA1 was a potentiation of the amplitude of the population spike by up to 20%, but higher intensity fields could produce either increases or decreases of up to 120 and 80%, respectively, in the amplitude of the population spike. To eliminate the possibility of RF-induced artefacts due to the metal stimulating electrode, the effect of RF exposure on spontaneous epileptiform activity induced in CA3 by 4-aminopyridine (50-100 microM) was investigated. Exposure to RF fields (50.0 V m(-1)) reduced or abolished epileptiform bursting in 36% of slices tested. The maximum field intensity used in these experiments, 71.0 V m(-1), was calculated to produce a specific absorption rate (SAR) of between 0.0016 and 0.0044 W kg(-1) in the slices. Measurements with a Luxtron fibreoptic probe confirmed that there was no detectable temperature change (+/- 0.1 degrees C) during a 15 min exposure to this field intensity. Furthermore, imposed temperature changes of up to 1 degrees C failed to mimic the effects of RF exposure. These results suggest that low-intensity RF fields can modulate the excitability of hippocampal tissue in vitro in the absence of gross thermal effects. The changes in excitability may be consistent with reported behavioural effects of RF fields.