The effect of early undernutrition and dietary rehabilitation on [3H]gamma-aminobutyric acid ([3H]GABA) binding in rat brain cerebral cortex and hippocampus was examined. Undernourished animals were obtained by exposing their mothers to a protein-deficient diet during both gestation and lactation. Saturation analysis of [3H]GABA binding in the cerebral cortex and hippocampus revealed high- and low-affinity components in the undernourished group, whereas control animals possessed only a low-affinity site. The concentration of low-affinity binding sites was greater in the undernourished animals. Rehabilitation of undernourished animals completely abolished the binding site differences. Treatment of brain membranes with Triton X-100 yielded two binding components in both the undernourished and control animals, although the concentration of lower affinity sites was still greater in the undernourished group. Neither the efficacy nor the potency of GABA to activate benzodiazepine binding in cerebral cortex was modified by undernutrition. These data suggest that early undernourishment modifies the characteristics of [3H]GABA binding, perhaps by reducing the brain content of endogenous inhibitors of the higher affinity binding site. The lack of effect on GABA-activated benzodiazepine binding suggests the possibility that neither the high- nor the low-affinity GABA binding sites are coupled to this receptor component.