1. Functional GABA-gated chloride channels are formed when cRNA encoding the Drosophila melanogaster GABA receptor subunit RDL is injected into the cytoplasm of Xenopus oocytes. Two-electrode voltage-clamp was used to investigate allosteric modulation of GABA-induced currents recorded from the expressed, bicuculline-insensitive, RDL homo-oligomers. 2. Flunitrazepam (0.1 microM to 100 microM) had no effect on the amplitude of responses to 10 microM GABA (approximately EC10), whereas 4'chlorodiazepam (100 microM) enhanced the amplitude of submaximal responses to GABA. 3-Hydroxymethyl-beta-carboline (1 microM) and ethyl-beta-carboline-3-carboxylate (both 1 and 100 microM) had no effect on currents induced by 30 microM (approximately EC50) GABA. However 100 microM 3-hydroxymethyl-beta-carboline reduced potentiation by 4'chlorodiazepam. 3. The sodium salts of pentobarbitone (10 microM to 1 mM) and phenobarbitone (50 microM to 1 mM) dose-dependently enhanced submaximal GABA responses. Neither barbiturate activated currents in the absence of GABA. 4. At 10 microM, the steroids 5 alpha-pregnan-3 alpha-ol-20-one and alphaxalone (5 alpha-pregnan-3 alpha-ol-11,20-dione), potentiated submaximal GABA responses. The stereoselectivity of steroid action seen on vertebrate GABAA receptors was observed on RDL homo-oligomers as 5 alpha-pregnan-3 beta-ol-20-one (10 microM) was without effect. None of the three steroids tested activated currents in the absence of GABA. 5. The novel anticonvulsant, loreclezole (100 microM), potentiated the response to 10 microM GABA, but not that of saturating concentrations of GABA. delta-Hexachlorocyclohexane (0.1 microM to 30 microM) was a potent enhancer of submaximal responses to GABA of RDL. 6. The potencies of barbiturates and steroids on RDL homo-oligomers resemble those observed for several in situ insect GABA receptors, whereas those of benzodiazepine binding-site ligands are considerably reduced. The differences in the benzodiazepine pharmacology of RDL homo-oligomers and native GABA receptors, may reflect roles of other subunits in native insect receptors.