The function of the chloride channel associated to GABAA receptor complex was analyzed in the brain of aged rats by measuring the chloride flux across the neuronal membrane and its modulation by drugs acting at the level of the GABA receptor complex and 35S-TBPS binding. The basal 36Cl- uptake by brain membrane vesicles of aged rats was higher (22%) than that observed in those of adult rats. The higher 36Cl- uptake found in cortical membrane vesicles of senescent rats was not sensitive to the action of bicuculline indicating that it was not the consequence of a tonic GABAergic modulation. Moreover, the stimulation of 36Cl- uptake induced by GABA was markedly lower in membrane vesicles of aged rats than that observed in those of adult rats. Accordingly, the stimulation of 36Cl- efflux elicited by GABA (18%) and pentobarbital (26%) was higher in membrane vesicles of adult rats with respect to that (8 and 16%, respectively) of old rats. Finally, a significant decrease of 35S-TBPS binding was observed in membrane preparation from the cerebral cortex, cerebellum and hippocampus of aged-rats. Scatchard plot analysis indicated that the decrease was entirely due to a reduction in the total number of binding sites with no change in their affinity. All together the results indicate that in the rat brain the function of the chloride channel coupled to the GABA/benzodiazepine/barbiturate receptor complex is reduced by aging.