The developmental plasticity of excitatory synapses is well established, particularly as a function of age. If similar principles apply to inhibitory synapses, then we would expect manipulations during juvenile development to produce a greater effect and experience-dependent changes to persist into adulthood. In this study, we first characterized the maturation of cortical inhibitory synapse function from just before the onset of hearing through adulthood. We then examined the long-term effects of developmental conductive hearing loss (CHL). Whole cell recordings from gerbil thalamocortical brain slices revealed a significant decrease in the decay time of inhibitory currents during the first 3 mo of normal development. When assessed in adults, developmental CHL led to an enduring decrease of inhibitory synaptic strength, whereas the maturation of synaptic decay time was only delayed. Early CHL also depressed the maximum discharge rate of fast-spiking, but not low-threshold-spiking, inhibitory interneurons. We then asked whether adult onset CHL had a similar effect, but neither inhibitory current amplitude nor decay time was altered. Thus inhibitory synapse function displays a protracted development during which deficits can be induced by juvenile, but not adult, hearing loss. These long-lasting changes to inhibitory function may contribute to the auditory processing deficits associated with early hearing loss.