1. The functional properties of sodium currents in acutely dissociated adult human, neonatal rat [postnatal day (P) 3 and P10], and mature rat (P21-23) neocortical pyramidal neurons were studied using whole-cell patch-clamp techniques. 2. The voltage dependence of activation and steady-state inactivation of neonatal rat sodium currents was shifted in the positive direction when compared with mature rat sodium currents. In contrast, no difference was detected between the voltage dependence of activation and steady-state inactivation of mature rat and adult human sodium currents. 3. The fast inactivation of rat (neonatal and mature) and human neocortical sodium currents were best fit with three components; a fast decay component, a slow decay component, and a persistent component. The magnitude of the persistent current in neocortical neurons averaged 1-3% of the peak current. Inactivation was faster for sodium currents in neonatal rat neocortical neurons than in mature neurons. No difference was detected in the kinetics of inactivation between mature rat and adult human sodium currents. 4. Saxitoxin (STX) inhibited neuronal sodium currents at nanomolar concentrations in neonatal and mature rat and adult human neocortical neurons. STX-insensitive channels were not detected. 5. STX affinity was also assayed using 3H-STX. A single high-affinity binding site was found in neonatal rat, mature rat, and adult human neocortical tissue. A developmental increase in STX binding site density in the rat neocortex was tightly correlated with the increase in the sodium current density (normalized to cell capacitance). Human neocortical tissue and mature rat neocortical tissue did not differ in STX binding site density or sodium current density. 6. From these electrophysiological and autoradiographic studies we conclude that 1) the increase in the normalized sodium current density and STX binding density with age postnatally reflects an increase in binding sites of sodium channels functionally expressed on neuronal membranes, 2) the functional differences in channel behavior with maturation can explain the higher threshold for excitation in neonatal neocortical neurons and the increase in accommodation or adaptation in firing in the mature neuron, and 3) mature rat neocortical neurons represent a valid model for the study of adult human pyramidal neocortical neurons in terms of Na+ channel expression and function.