The whole-cell patch-clamp method was used to study the development of functional GABA receptors in cortical neurons dissociated from embryonic turtles. GABA elicited an increase in membrane conductance, even from cells obtained from the earliest stages of corticogenesis. The GABA-mediated conductance had a mean value 7.4 times greater than membrane 'leak' conductance and increased with developmental age. In all stages studied, the response inverted polarity at a value approximating ECl- and was blocked by applications of bicuculline, suggesting that it was mediated by GABAA receptors. GABA receptors are thus present and functional very early in corticogenesis, preceding electrogenesis, synaptogenesis, and full neuronal differentiation.