In both human and rat tissues, complex patterns of transcripts are derived from the genes that encode the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)(A) receptor epsilon subunit. An epsilon subunit transcript (approximately 3.6 kb) is expressed at relatively high levels in regions of the human brain and heart, but is not detected in most other major tissues. The encoded human epsilon subunit (epsilon (h)) confers distinctive properties to receptors into which it assembles. A distinct transcript of the gene (6.2 kb) is expressed abundantly in a variety of human tissues. This alternative transcript (ET2) appears to originate from within the epsilon subunit gene. It is possible that this transcript encodes a truncated subunit (epsilon (hS)), containing all of the transmembrane and intracellular domains. However, a combination of biochemical and electrophysiological analyses does not support this hypothesis. A distinct transcript of the epsilon subunit gene, encoding a large extracellular pro/glx domain, is expressed abundantly in rat and mouse brain. Functional analyses also failed to provide evidence for incorporation of this subunit (epsilon (rL)) into recombinant receptors. However, a shorter rat epsilon subunit (epsilon (r)), which lacks the pro/glx domain, conferred epsilon (h)-like properties to recombinant receptors, providing evidence for a functional rat epsilon subunit. In common with its human orthologue, incorporation of the epsilon (r) subunit into recombinant GABA(A) receptors confers several distinctive properties, including a reduced modulation by the anesthetic propofol and the appearance of spontaneous current.