We previously reported that the pharmacological properties of the hippocampal GABAA receptor and the expression of several subunits are modified during normal ageing. However, correlation between these post-synaptic modifications and pre-synaptic deficits were not determined. To address this issue, we have analysed the mRNA levels of several GABAergic molecular markers in young and old rat hippocampus, including glutamic acid decarboxylase enzymes, parvalbumin, calretinin, somatostatin, neuropeptide Y and vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP). There was a differential age-related decrease in these interneuronal mRNAs that was inversely correlated with up-regulation of the alpha1 GABA receptor subunit. Somatostatin and neuropeptide Y mRNAs were most frequently affected (75% of the animals), then calretinin and VIP mRNAs (50% of the animals), and parvalbumin mRNA (25% of the animals) in the aged hippocampus. This selective vulnerability was well correlated at the protein/cellular level as analysed by immunocytochemistry. Somatostatin interneurones, which mostly innervate principal cell distal dendrites, were more vulnerable than calretinin interneurones, which target other interneurones. Parvalbumin interneurones, which mostly innervate perisomatic domains of principal cells, were preserved. This age-dependent differential reduction of specific hippocampal inteneuronal subpopulations might produce functional alterations in the GABAergic tone which might be compensated, at the post-synaptic level, by up-regulation of the expression of the alpha1 GABAA receptor subunit.