Throughout the adult vertebrate central nervous system (CNS) gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) mediates transient Cl- conductances commonly identified as fast, Cl(-)-dependent inhibitory synaptic signals [Prog. Neurobiol., 36 (1991) 35-92]. In the rat hippocampus Cl(-)-dependent excitatory transients mediated by GABA emerge during the first postnatal week superimposed on a steady-state baseline that is also Cl(-)- and GABA-dependent [Int. J. Dev. Neurosci., 8 (1990) 481-490]. Here we report that many embryonic rat hippocampal neurons cultured for hours to days exhibit random fluctuations in Cl- channel activity that are mediated by continuous secretion of GABA in the absence of transients. Thus, GABA is broadcast tonically before it is released transiently.