Neurotransmission effected by GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is predominantly mediated by a gated chloride channel intrinsic to the GABAA receptor. This heterooligomeric receptor exists in most inhibitory synapses in the vertebrate central nervous system (CNS) and can be regulated by clinically important compounds such as benzodiazepines and barbiturates. The primary structures of GABAA receptor alpha- and beta-subunits have been deduced from cloned complementary DNAs. Co-expression of these subunits in heterologous systems generates receptors which display much of the pharmacology of their neural counterparts, including potentiation by barbiturates. Conspicuously, however, they lack binding sites for, and consistent electrophysiological responses to, benzodiazepines. We now report the isolation of a cloned cDNA encoding a new GABAA receptor subunit, termed gamma 2, which shares approximately 40% sequence identity with alpha- and beta-subunits and whose messenger RNA is prominently localized in neuronal subpopulations throughout the CNS. Importantly, coexpression of the gamma 2 subunit with alpha 1 and beta 1 subunits produces GABAA receptors displaying high-affinity binding for central benzodiazepine receptor ligands.