In the mature brain, the K(+)/Cl- cotransporter KCC2 is important in maintaining low [Cl-]i, resulting in hyperpolarizing GABA responses. Decreases in KCC2 after neuronal injuries result in increases in [Cl-]i and enhanced neuronal excitability due to depolarizing GABA responses. We used the gramicidin perforated-patch technique to measure E(Cl) ( approximately E(GABA)) in layer V pyramidal neurons in slices of partially isolated sensorimotor cortex of adult rats to explore the potential functional consequence of KCC2 downregulation in chronically injured cortex. E(GABA) was measured by recording currents evoked with brief GABA puffs at various membrane potentials. There was no significant difference in E(Cl) between neurons in control and undercut animals (-71.2 +/- 2.6 and -71.8 +/- 2.8 mV, respectively). However, when loaded with Cl- by applying muscimol puffs at 0.2 Hz for 60 s, neurons in the undercut cortex had a significantly shorter time constant for the positive shift in E(Cl) during the Cl- loading phase (4.3 +/- 0.5 s for control and 2.2 +/- 0.4 s for undercut, P < 0.01). The positive shift in E(Cl) 3 s after the beginning of Cl- loading was also significantly larger in the undercut group than in the control, indicating that neurons in undercut cortex were less effective in maintaining low [Cl-]i during repetitive activation of GABA(A) receptors. Application of furosemide eliminated the difference between the control and undercut groups for both of these measures of [Cl-]i regulation. The results suggest an impairment in Cl- extrusion resulting from decreased KCC2 expression that may reduce the strength of GABAergic inhibition and contribute to epileptogenesis.