In the present study we have characterized the biophysical properties of wild-type (WT) α1β2 and α3β2 GABAA receptors and probed the molecular basis for the observed differences. The activation and desensitization behavior and the residual currents of the receptors expressed in HEK293 cells were determined in whole-cell patch clamp recordings. Kinetic parameters of α1β2 and α3β2 activation differed significantly, with α1β2 and α3β2 exhibiting rise times (10-90%) of 24 ± 2 ms and 51 ± 7 ms, respectively. In contrast, the two receptors exhibited largely comparable desensitization behavior with decay currents that could be fitted to exponential functions with two or three components. Most notably, the two receptor compositions displayed different degrees of desentization, with the residual currents of α1β2 and α3β2 constituting 34 ± 2% and 21 ± 2% of the peak current, respectively. The respective contributions of the extracellular domains and the transmembrane/intracellular domains of the α-subunit to these physiological profiles were next assessed in recordings from cells expressing αβ2 receptors comprising chimeric α-subunits. The rise times displayed by α1ECD/α3TMDβ2 and α3ECD/α1TMDβ2 receptors were intermediate to those of WT α1β2 and WT α3β2, and the distribution of the different components of the current decays exhibited by the two chimeric receptors followed the same pattern as the two WT receptors. The residual current exhibited by α1ECD/α3TMDβ2 (23 ± 3%) was similar to that of α3β2 but significantly different from that of α1β2, whereas the residual current displayed by α3ECD/α1TMDβ2 (27 ± 2%) was intermediate to and did not differ significantly from either of the WT receptors. This points to molecular differences in the transmembrane/intracellular domains of the α-subunit as the main determinants of the observed differences in receptor physiology between α1β2 and α3β2 receptors.