Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the thalamus has mainly been associated with the inhibitory modulation of the sensory and cortical flow of information via a 'classical', chloride-dependent, GABAA receptor-mediated action. However, the discovery of a late, long-lasting potassium-dependent inhibitory postsynaptic potential (IPSP) mediated by GABAB receptors present on thalamocortical cells, has allowed new insights into our understanding of the physiological role of this neurotransmitter. In particular, work on the dorsal lateral geniculate nucleus indicates that together with a relatively weak inhibition, GABAB receptor-mediated IPSPs 'prepare' thalamocortical cells for burst firing by activating low-threshold calcium potentials. Thus, GABA in the thalamus can no longer be viewed only as a 'classical' inhibitory transmitter but also as a neuromodulator with a 'priming' role for burst firing excitation. This dual role of GABAB receptors in inhibition and excitation of thalamocortical cells might allow different interpretations of earlier findings in animals and humans, both in healthy and pathological conditions. It will also help to identify new functions for postsynaptic GABAB receptors in other parts of the central nervous system.