A strain of Wistar rats, genetic absence epilepsy rats from Strasbourg (GAERS), was selected and inbred over 40 generations for occurrence of spontaneous spike-wave discharges characteristic of absence seizures, simultaneously with a strain of non-epileptic rats (NER). GAERS demonstrate an excessive sensitivity to antagonists of the GABA(A) receptor. The sensitivity to convulsions induced by various inverse agonists of the GABA(A)/benzodiazepine receptor was compared in GAERS and NERs. The beta-carbolines FG 7142 and DMCM, and the imidazobenzodiazepines RO 19-4603 and the alpha 5-selective RY 024 were several times more convulsant in GAERS than in NERs. The largest differences were found with the non-selective RO 19-4603- and FG 7142. The proconvulsant imidazobenzodiazepine RO 15-4513, binding also to diazepam-insensitive receptors, had low efficacy. The high affinity binding of GABA(A)/BZD receptors with (3H) RO 15-1788 in the brain of naive rats and after administration of FG 7142 did not differ in GAERS and NERs. The data indicate that the hypersensitivity of GAERS to various inverse agonists of the GABA(A)/benzodiazepine receptor involves cortical GABA(A) receptors and is not related to differential activity of a subunit-selective receptor.