1. Using dual intracellular recordings in slices of adult rat neocortex, twenty-four IPSPs activated by single presynaptic interneurones were studied in simultaneously recorded pyramidal cells. Fast spiking interneurones inhibited one in four or five of their close pyramidal neighbours. No reciprocal connections were observed. After recordings neurones were filled with biocytin. 2. Interneurones that elicited IPSPs were classified as classical fast spiking (n = 10), as non-classical fast spiking (n = 3, including one burst-firing interneurone), as unclassified, or slow interneurones (n = 8), or as regular spiking interneurones (n = 3), i.e. interneurones whose electrophysiological characteristics were indistinguishable from those of pyramidal cells. 3. All of the seven classical fast spiking cells anatomically fully recovered had aspiny, beaded dendrites. Their partially myelinated axons ramified extensively, varying widely in shape and extent, but randomly selected labelled axon terminals typically innervated somata and large calibre dendrites on electron microscopic examination. One 'autapse' was demonstrated. One presumptive regular spiking interneurone axon made four somatic and five dendritic connections with unlabelled targets. 4. Full anatomical reconstructions of labelled classical fast spiking interneurones and their postsynaptic pyramids (n = 5) demonstrated one to five boutons per connection. The two recorded IPSPs that were fully reconstructed morphologically (3 and 5 terminals) were, however, amongst the smallest recorded (< 0.4 mV). Some connections may therefore involve larger numbers of contacts. 5. Single axon IPSPs were between 0.2 and 3.5 mV in average amplitude at -55 to -60 mV. Extrapolated reversal potentials were between -70 and -82 mV. IPSP time course correlated with the type of presynaptic interneurone, but not with IPSP latency, amplitude, reversal potential, or sensitivity to current injected at the soma. 6. Classical fast spiking interneurones elicited the fastest IPSPs (width at half-amplitude 14.72 +/- 3.83 ms, n = 10) and unclassified, or slow interneurones the slowest (56.29 +/- 23.44 ms, n = 8). Regular spiking interneurone IPSPs had intermediate half-widths (27.3 +/- 3.68 ms, n = 3). 7. Increasingly brief presynaptic interspike intervals increased the peak amplitude of, but not the area under, the summed IPSP. Only at interspike intervals between 10 and 20 ms did IPSP integrals exhibit paired pulse facilitation. Paired pulse depression was apparent at < 10 and 20-60 ms. During longer spike trains, summing IPSPs decayed to a plateau potential that was relatively independent of firing rate (100-250 Hz). Thereafter, the voltage response could increase again. 8. Summed IPSPs elicited by two to fifteen presynaptic spike trains decayed as, or more rapidly than, single-spike IPSPs. Summed IPSPs elicited by > 20 spikes (> 150 Hz), however, resulted in an additional, more slowly decaying component (latency > 50 ms, duration > 200 ms). The possible involvement of GABAB receptors in this component is discussed. 9. It is suggested that three broad classes of interneurones may activate GABAA receptors on relatively proximal portions of neocortical pyramidal neurones. The different time courses of the IPSPs elicited by the three classes may reflect different types of postsynaptic receptor rather than dendritic location. An additional class, burst firing, spiny interneurones appear to activate GABAA receptors on more distal sites.