A hallmark in the development of GABAergic neurotransmission is the switch in GABA(A)-mediated responses from depolarizing to hyperpolarizing. This occurs due to a gradual decrease in the intracellular concentration of chloride caused by the functional expression of the neuron-specific K-Cl cotransporter KCC2. Whether a mere increase in the amount of KCC2 protein is the rate-limiting step in vivo, or a further activation of the otherwise nonfunctional cotransporter is required, is not clear. Imposing a fixed Cl(-) load via patch pipette we measured the resultant somato-dendritic gradients in reversal potential of GABAergic currents to determine the time course of functional maturation of KCC2-mediated Cl(-) extrusion in two preparations: cultured mouse hippocampal neurons plated at embryonic day 17 and CA1 pyramidal cells in acute slices. We found that in immature neurons in both preparations the gradient is initially small or not detectable. It undergoes an abrupt increase at around days 13-14 in culture, while a more gradual increase occurs between postnatal days 5-14 in slices. Consistent with the presence of a nonfunctional form of KCC2 in immature hippocampal neurons grown in culture, application of the broad-spectrum kinase inhibitor staurosporine produces a rapid and potent up-regulation of KCC2 function in these cultured neurons, but not in neonatal slices. Taken together with our previously published data, these results indicate that the functional activity of KCC2 in vivo parallels the developmental expression of the protein, whereas cultured neurons require an additional activation step (mimicked by staurosporine) for KCC2 to become functional.