Growth cone fractions isolated from neonatal [postnatal day 3 (P3)] rat forebrain contain GABAergic growth cones as demonstrated by immunofluorescence staining with monospecific antibodies to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). HPLC analysis shows that GABAergic growth cones release this endogenous GABA when stimulated with high K+. Endogenous GABA release is Ca2(+)-independent and, in this respect, similar to that seen previously with [3H]GABA. Isolated growth cone fractions also exhibit a K(+)-stimulated, Ca2(+)-independent release of endogenous taurine. None of the other amino acids shown to be present in isolated growth cone fractions were released, including glutamate, aspartate, and glycine. A population of dissociated cerebral cortical neurones prepared from P1 rat forebrain were GABA-immunoreactive after 1 day in culture. The cell body, neurites, and growth cones of these neurones were all stained with GABA antibodies. At this time in culture, neurones did not stain with either of two antibodies to synaptic vesicle antigens, i.e., p65 and synaptophysin. Growth cones isolated from P3 rat forebrain were also not immunoreactive with these antibodies. After about 8 days in culture, when neurones had established extensive networks of long, varicose axons and elaborately branched dendrites, many neurones and their neurites were immunoreactive for GABA antibodies. At this time in culture, p65 and synaptophysin antibodies did stain neuronal cell bodies and particularly their varicose axons. Dendrites were not stained with synaptic vesicle antibodies. These results suggest that GABAergic neurones synthesize GABA during neurite outgrowth and that GABA is present in, and can be released from, the growth cones of these neurones. The presence of GABA in GABAergic growth cones is not associated with synaptic vesicles, which explains the Ca2+ independency of both endogenous and [3H]GABA release from these growth cones.