In the mammalian central nervous system, glycine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) bind to specific and distinct receptors and cause an increase in membrane conductance to CI- (refs 5-7). Neurones in various regions of the nervous system show differential sensitivity to glycine and GABA; thus GABA and glycine receptors are spatially distinct from one another. However, on the basis of desensitization experiments on spinal cord neurones, it was suggested that the receptors for glycine and GABA may share the same CI- channel. We now report that in small membrane patches, isolated from the soma of spinal neurones, both receptor channels display several (multiple) conductance states. Two of the states are common to both receptor channels. However, the most frequently observed 'main conductance states' of the GABA and glycine receptor channels are different. Both channels display the same anion selectivity. We propose that one class of multistate CI- channel is coupled to either GABA or glycine receptors. The main conductance state adopted by this channel is determined by the receptor to which it is coupled.