In mammals, receptors for the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) are divided into three pharmacological classes, which are denoted GABAA, GABAB, and GABAC. GABAC receptors are defined by their insensitivity to the GABAA receptor antagonist bicuculline and the GABAB receptor agonist (-)-baclofen. GABAC receptors probably are a heterogeneous group of proteins. The most extensively studied mammalian GABAC receptors are those found in neurons of the outer retina. These receptors are GABA-gated Cl- channels comprised of p subunits, of which there are two subtypes. The physiological functions served by GABAC receptors are largely unknown; to determine the functions, it would be useful to have GABAC-selective ligands. In a previous study, we found that isoguvacine, a GABAA-selective agonist, and 3-aminopropyl-(methyl)phosphinic acid (3-APMPA), a GABAB-selective agonist, show affinity for retinal GABAC receptors. In particular, 3-APMPA is an antagonist with low micromolar potency (Kb approximately 1 microM). Here, we report the synthesis and pharmacological characterization of (1,2,5,6-tetrahydropyridine-4-yl)methylphosphinic acid (TPMPA), a hybrid of isoguvacine and 3-APMPA designed to retain affinity for GABAC receptors but not to interact with GABAA or GABAB receptors. Electrical assays show that TPMPA is a competitive antagonist of cloned human mu 1 GABAC receptors expressed in Xenopus laevis oocytes (Kb approximately 2 microM). TPMPA is > 100-fold weaker as an inhibitor of rat brain GABAA receptors expressed in oocytes (Kb approximately 320 microM) and has only weak agonist activity on GABAB receptors assayed in rat hippocampal slices (EC50 approximately 500 microM). TPMPA should be a useful pharmacological probe with which to investigate GABAC receptor function in the outer retina and in any other areas of the nervous system in which these types of receptor are present.