It has been suggested that hydrogen peroxide is involved in cascades of pathological events affecting neural cells. The aim of this study was therefore to examine whether this molecule is able by itself to modify membrane properties of pyramidal neurons in the CA1 region of the rat hippocampus. Intracellular recordings in the slice preparation showed that 3.3 mM hydrogen peroxide hyperpolarized all neurons tested (n = 41) by 11 +/- 3 mV. This effect persisted in the presence of tetrodotoxin. It developed slowly, was reversible and reproducible. In the presence of tetrodotoxin, the extrapolated reversal potential of this effect was -95 +/- 5 mV in 2.5 mM external potassium. This value was not significantly different from the one obtained with the GABAB agonist baclofen (10 microM) (-98 +/- 5 mV). It shifted when the concentration of external potassium was increased to 10.5 mM (from -96 +/- 5 to -62 +/- 4 mV), in close agreement with the Nernst equation potassium ions. The hyperpolarization was significantly reduced (by 65 +/- 22%) by the potassium channel blocker barium (100 microM). We suggest that hydrogen peroxide is able to induce an increase in potassium conductance in rat CA1 pyramidal neurons. The exact mechanism by which it produces this effect (direct action on channels or indirect effect) remains to be determined.