When vertebrate brain poly(A)+ RNA is expressed in Xenopus oocytes the response of the GABA receptors formed is found to be inhibited allosterically by a neurosteroid, pregnenolone sulphate (PS). This negative modulation was reproduced after expressing RNAs encoding bovine GABAA receptor subunits in the combinations alpha i + beta 1, or alpha i + beta 1 + gamma 2 (where i = 1, 2 or 3). The characteristics of this inhibition vary significantly with the type of the alpha subunit (alpha 1, alpha 2, or alpha 3) used. When the bovine gamma 2L alternate form of the gamma 2 subunit was replaced by the human gamma 2S subunit, the behaviour was unchanged: the human gamma 2S subunit used is a newly-cloned form, which encodes a polypeptide with two amino acid differences from the human gamma 2 subunit previously described. The results of co-application of PS and 3 alpha-hydroxy-5 alpha-pregnan-ol-20-one, a neurosteroid which is a positive modulator of the GABAA receptor, indicate that these act at different sites on the receptor. PS also increases the desensitisation of the receptor by GABA. This effect, also, is alpha-subunit-type dependent and occurs by an acceleration of the fast phase of desensitisation.