Gamma-aminobutyrate (GABA) is a major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the adult mammalian brain. GABA is also considered to be a multifunctional molecule that has different situational functions in the central nervous system, the peripheral nervous system, and in some nonneuronal tissues. GABA is synthesized primarily from glutamate by glutamate decarboxylase (GAD), but alternative pathways may be important under certain situations. Two types of GAD appear to have significant physiological roles. GABA functions appear to be triggered by binding of GABA to its ionotropic receptors, GABA(A) and GABA(C), which are ligand-gated chloride channels, and its metabotropic receptor, GABA(B). The physiological, pharmacological, and molecular characteristics of GABA(A) receptors are well documented, and diversity in the pharmacologic properties of the receptor subtypes is important clinically. In addition to its role in neural development, GABA appears to be involved in a wide variety of physiological functions in tissues and organs outside the brain.