Evidence from electrophysiological studies suggests that 5-HT neuronal firing in the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN) may be regulated by both GABA(A) and GABA(B) receptors. Here, we addressed the question of whether the activity of individual 5-HT neurons is regulated by both GABA(A) and GABA(B) receptors. In addition, we examined the concentration-response relationships of GABA(A) and GABA(B) receptor activation and determined if GABA receptor regulation of 5-HT neuronal firing is altered by moderate alterations in circulating corticosterone. The activity of 5-HT neurons in the DRN of the rat was examined using in vitro extracellular electrophysiology. The firing of all individual neurons tested was inhibited by both the GABA(A) receptor agonist 4,5,6,7-tetrahydroisoxazolo-[5,4-c]-pyridin-3-ol hydrochloride (THIP) (25 microM) and the GABA(B) receptor agonist baclofen (1 microM). Responses to THIP (5, 10, 25 microM) and baclofen (1, 3, 10 microM) were concentration dependent and attenuated by the GABA(A) and GABA(B) receptor antagonists, bicuculline (50 microM) and phaclofen (200 microM), respectively. To examine the effects of corticosterone on the sensitivity of 5-HT neurons to GABA receptor activation, experiments were conducted on adrenalectomized animals with corticosterone maintained for two weeks at either a low or moderate level within the normal diurnal range. These changes in corticosterone levels had no significant effects on the 5-HT neuronal response to either GABA(A) or GABA(B) receptor activation. The data indicate that the control of 5-HT neuronal activity by GABA is mediated by both GABA(A) and GABA(B) receptors and that this control is insensitive to moderate changes in circulating glucocorticoid levels.