Research on the effects of antidepressant/ antipanic drugs in animal models of anxiety has yielded equivocal results, even after chronic drug regimens. In contrast, we found that the antidepressant/antipanic drug phenelzine, given acutely, produced a clear anxiolytic effect in the elevated plus-maze, a widely-used animal model of "anxiety" that is primarily sensitive to benzodiazepine-type anxiolytics (e.g., diazepam). Furthermore, the effective dose of phenelzine (15 mg/kg) administered to rats was associated with more than a 2- fold increase in whole brain levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), whereas an ineffective dose of phenelzine (5.1 mg/kg) did not significantly change GABA levels. The N-acetylated metabolite of phenelzine, N2-acetylphenelzine, produced neither an anxiolytic effect in the elevated plus-maze nor a significant change in whole-brain levels of GABA. However, both phenelzine and N2-acetylphenelzine potently inhibited monoamine oxidase, a mechanism commonly thought to be involved in the therapeutic effects of monoamine oxidase inhibitors such as phenelzine in the treatment of depression in humans. These results suggest that the mechanism whereby phenelzine produces anxiolytic effects in the plus-maze model is unique to a facilitatory action on brain levels of GABA, in contrast to classical benzodiazepines, which produce anxiolytic effects by enhancing the affinity of the GABAA-receptor for GABA.