The connections of limbic structures are remarkably constant across species. However, different species express fear in distinct ways. Because the central amygdaloid nucleus is considered an important mediator of fear responses, we compared the physiological properties of central amygdala neurons in guinea pigs, rats and cats using whole-cell recordings in coronal slices in vitro. In guinea pigs, most central medial and lateral neurons displayed an outward rectification that delayed firing onset in response to depolarizing current pulses (hence the designation late-firing neurons). Late-firing neurons were also prevalent in the lateral sector of the cat central nucleus. In contrast, late-firing neurons were rare in the rat central nucleus and the cat central medial nucleus. There, most neurons generated Ni2+-sensitive low-threshold bursts of Na+ spikes and/or displayed pronounced inward rectification in the hyperpolarizing direction. Species differences in passive properties were also observed, but they were mainly related to the relative prevalence of late-firing cells. Indeed, late-firing cells had a significantly lower input resistance and more negative membrane potential than other types of central neurons. Thus, there are marked species differences in the physiological properties of central neurons. Because the synaptic responsiveness of neurons is constrained by their physiological properties, our findings raise the possibility that the contrasting behavioural responsiveness observed across species is partly dependent on the species-specific physiological properties of central neurons.