The effects of catechol on membrane properties in lumbar sympathetic postganglionic neurones isolated from guinea-pigs were studied in vitro in current and voltage clamp using single intracellular microelectrodes. Neurones with properties characteristic of two previously described classes of neurone (phasic and tonic) were studied. Catechol (3-12 mM) produced a few mV depolarization and a dose-dependent increase in membrane resistance which were both larger in tonic than in phasic neurones. In the presence of catechol, both phasic and tonic neurones fired only a single action potential at the beginning of a maintained depolarizing current step. In both neurone types, catechol reduced action potential amplitude and slowed its time course. The peak of the afterhyperpolarization became delayed and reduced in amplitude, particularly in tonic neurones. The time constant of inactivation of IA was reduced by catechol without change in the voltage sensitivity of activation or inactivation: IC50 was 3 mM in phasic and 4 mM in tonic neurones. Catechol also blocked a slow voltage-activated K+ current (resembling ID) that was present in many tonic neurones. Catechol did not modify the slow calcium-activated potassium current (gKCa1) or the anomalous rectifier; neither did it appear to affect the fast calcium-activated potassium current (IC) or the delayed rectifier. Catechol did not change the overall rate of spontaneous synaptic activity nor enhance the release of quanta of ACh from preganglionic terminals evoked by nerve stimulation. We conclude that, in addition to blocking IA, catechol blocks the slow ID-like current in sympathetic neurones. It also has a profound effect on the action potential probably by increasing inactivation of voltage-dependent Na+ channels. The change from tonic to phasic discharge in tonic neurones cannot be attributed solely to its effects on IA.