The dentate gyrus (DG) normally functions as a filter, preventing propagation of synchronized activity into the seizure-prone hippocampus. This filter or 'gatekeeper' attribute of the DG is compromised in various pathological states, including temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE). This study examines the role that altered inhibition may play in the deterioration of this crucial DG function. Using the pilocarpine animal model of TLE, we demonstrate that inhibitory synaptic function is altered in principal cells of the DG. Spontaneous miniature inhibitory postsynaptic currents (mIPSCs) recorded in dentate granule cells (DGCs) from epileptic animals were larger, more sensitive to blockade by zinc and less sensitive to augmentation by the benzodiazepine type site 1 modulator zolpidem. Furthermore, mIPSCs examined during a quiescent period following injury but preceding onset of epilepsy were significantly smaller than those present either in control or in TLE DGCs, and had already acquired sensitivity to blockade by zinc prior to the onset of spontaneous seizures. Rapid agonist application experiments demonstrated that prolonged (>35 ms) exposure to zinc is required to block GABAA receptors (GABAARs) in patches pulled from epileptic DGCs. Therefore, zinc must be tonically present to block DGC GABAARs and alter DG function. This would occur only during repetitive activation of mossy fibres. Thus, in the pilocarpine animal model of TLE, an early, de novo, expression of zinc-sensitive GABAARs is coupled with delayed, epilepsy-induced development of a zinc delivery system provided by aberrant sprouting of zinc-containing mossy fibre recurrent collaterals. The temporal and spatial juxtaposition of these pathophysiological alterations may compromise normal 'gatekeeper' function of the DG through dynamic zinc-induced failure of inhibition, predisposing the hippocampal circuit to generate seizures.