G protein-gated inwardly rectifying potassium (GIRK) channels hyperpolarize neurons in response to activation of many different G protein-coupled receptors and thus control the excitability of neurons through GIRK-mediated self-inhibition, slow synaptic potentials and volume transmission. GIRK channel function and trafficking are highly dependent on the channel subunit composition. Pharmacological investigations of GIRK channels and studies in animal models suggest that GIRK activity has an important role in physiological responses, including pain perception and memory modulation. Moreover, abnormal GIRK function has been implicated in altering neuronal excitability and cell death, which may be important in the pathophysiology of diseases such as epilepsy, Down's syndrome, Parkinson's disease and drug addiction. GIRK channels may therefore prove to be a valuable new therapeutic target.