Voltage-gated Na+ channels are a main target of many first-line anticonvulsant drugs and their mechanism of action has been extensively investigated in cell lines and native neurons. Nevertheless, it is unknown whether the efficacy of these drugs might be altered following chronic epileptogenesis. We have, therefore, analysed the effects of phenytoin (100 micro m), lamotrigine (100 micro m) and valproate (600 micro m) on Na+ currents in dissociated rat hippocampal granule neurons in the pilocarpine model of chronic epilepsy. In control animals, all three substances exhibited modest tonic blocking effects on Na+ channels in their resting state. These effects of phenytoin and lamotrigine were reduced (by 77 and 64%) in epileptic compared with control animals. Phenytoin and valproate caused a shift in the voltage dependence of fast inactivation in a hyperpolarizing direction, while all three substances shifted the voltage dependence of activation in a depolarizing direction. The anticonvulsant effects on Na+ channel voltage dependence proved to be similar in control and epileptic animals. The time course of fast recovery from inactivation was potently slowed by lamotrigine and phenytoin in control animals, while valproate had no effect. Interestingly, the effects of phenytoin on fast recovery from inactivation were significantly reduced in chronic epilepsy. Taken together, these results reveal that different anticonvulsant drugs may exert a distinct pattern of effects on native Na+ channels. Furthermore, the reduction of phenytoin and, to a less pronounced extent, lamotrigine effects in chronic epilepsy raises the possibility that reduced pharmacosensitivity of Na+ channels may contribute to the development of drug resistance.