The inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA has been shown to be critically involved in shaping neuronal responses to simple and complex acoustic stimuli in the inferior colliculus. Studies in the rat and human inferior colliculus have suggested significant changes in functions related to GABA neurotransmission occur in the aged. These changes include significant decreases in GABA content, GABA release, GABA neurons, glutamate decarboxylase enzymatic activity, and GABAB receptor binding. Such changes within the inferior colliculus may affect the ability of elderly listeners to process complex acoustic signals, particularly in the presence of background noise. The present study was designed to examine the regional distribution and effects of aging on GABAA receptor binding sites in the Fischer 344 rat inferior colliculus using in vitro quantitative receptor autoradiography. [3H]GABA binding to GABAA receptors was significantly reduced in the inferior colliculus of young adult (3 months) and aged (18-26 months) rats when compared to 2-month animals. However, no significant changes were observed after 3 months of age. Single concentrations of tritiated GABAA receptor ligands (muscimol, t-butylbicycloorthobenzoate, and flunitrazepam) revealed no significant age-related changes in receptor binding in the inferior colliculus between 3 and 26 months of age. To characterize further the pharmacology of the GABAA receptor in the inferior colliculus, GABA modulation of the picrotoxin binding site was examined using [3H]t-butylbicycloorthobenzoate. When increasing concentrations of GABA were added to the incubation buffer, a significant decrease in binding was observed in the inferior colliculus of rats in each age group. In aged rats, the dose-response curve was shifted to the left, indicating an increase in the potency of GABA to inhibit [3H]t-butylbicycloorthobenzoate binding. Although no changes in GABAA receptor binding were detected in the inferior colliculus after 3 months of age, a significant alteration in interaction between the GABA and picrotoxin binding sites was observed in the inferior colliculus of aged rats when compared to 3-month-old young adults. This difference appears to reflect an increased sensitivity of the receptor to GABA modulation in aged rats and, thus, may serve as a compensatory mechanism to enhance GABAA receptor function in response to a presynaptic loss of inhibition.