1. The Drosophila melanogaster gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptor subunits, RDLac and DRC 17-1-2, form functional homo-oligomeric receptors when heterologously expressed in Xenopus laevis oocytes. The subunits differ in only 17 amino acids, principally in regions of the N-terminal domain which determine agonist pharmacology in vertebrate ionotropic neurotransmitter receptors. A range of conformationally restricted GABA analogues were tested on the two homo-oligomers and their agonists pharmacology compared with that of insect and vertebrate iontropic GABA receptors. 2. The actions of GABA, isoguvacine and isonipecotic acid on RDLac and DRC 17-1-2 homo-oligomers were compared, by use of two-electrode voltage-clamp. All three compounds were full agonists of both receptors, but were 4-6 fold less potent agonists of DRC 17-1-2 homo-oligomers than of RDLac. However, the relative potencies of these agonists on each receptor were very similar. 3. A more complete agonist profile was established for RDLac homo-oligomers. The most potent agonists of these receptors were GABA, muscimol and trans-aminocrotonic acid (TACA), which were approximately equipotent. RDLac homo-oligomers were fully activated by a range of GABA analogues, with the order of potency: GABA > ZAPA ((Z)-3-[(aminoiminomethyl)thio]prop-2-enoic acid) > isoguvacine > imidazole-4-acetic acid > or = isonipecotic acid > or = cis-aminocrotonic acid (CACA) > beta-alanine. 3-Aminopropane sulphonic acid (3-APS), a partial agonist of RDLac homo-oligomers, was the weakest agonist tested and 100 fold less potent than GABA. 4. SR95531, an antagonist of vertebrate GABAA receptors, competitively inhibited the GABA responses of RDLac homo-oligomers, which have previously been found to insensitive to bicuculline. However, its potency (IC50 500 microM) was much reduced when compared to GABAA receptors. 5. The agonist pharmacology of Drosophila RDLac homo-oligomers exhibits aspects of the characteristic pharmacology of certain native insect GABA receptors which distinguish them from vertebrate GABA receptors. The high potency and efficacy of isoguvacine and ZAPA distinguishes RDLac homo-oligomers from bicuculline-insensitive vertebrate GABAC receptors, while the low potency of SR95531 and 3-APS distinguishes them from GABAA receptors. The differences in the potency of agonists on RDLac and DRC 17-1-2 homo-oligomers observed in the present study may assist in identification of further molecular determinants of GABA receptor function.