Quantitative analysis of neuronal firing patterns was used to study the effects of chronic suppression of bioelectric activity (BEA) on functional development in primary cultures of fetal rat cerebral cortex. BEA was monitored with extracellular electrodes in active control cultures or, after return to control medium, in cultures chronically silenced with tetrodotoxin (TTX) at around 7, 14, 21 and 42 days in vitro. Spike trains of single neurons lasting up to 25 min duration were analyzed using a previously published set of computer programs. In control cultures, the main developmental trends seen in a previous study could be replicated. After development in the presence of TTX, activity levels were increased at all ages, and a high incidence was found of a single firing pattern characterized by stereotyped burst firing, while showing a low minute order variability in firing rate and low dependencies between successive intervals; conversely, the incidence of variable/non-burst firing was decreased relative to untreated cultures. The former firing pattern (i.e. non-variable bursting) could also be produced through acute addition of the GABA (A)-antagonist picrotoxin to control cultures, and resembled interictal burst firing observed in models of chronic epilepsy in vivo. These similarities suggest that chronic silencing of the cultures may have resulted in a functional disinhibition of the neuronal network; such disinhibition might be related to the increased cell death which we observed with chronic TTX-treatment in the same cultures.