1. The radiolabelled bicyclic dinitrile, [3H]-3,3-bis-trifluoromethyl-bicyclo[2.2.1]heptane-2,2-dicarbonitrile ([3H]-BIDN), exhibited, specific binding of high affinity to membranes of the southern corn rootworm (Diabrotica undecimpunctata howardi) and other insects. A variety of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptor convulsants, including the insecticides heptachlor (IC50, 35 +/- 3 nM) and dieldrin (IC50, 93 +/- 7 nM), displaced [3H]-BIDN from rootworm membranes. When tested at 100 microM, 1-(4-ethynylphenyl)-4-n-propyl-2,6,7-trioxabicyclo[2.2.2]oct ane(EBOB), 4-t-butyl-2,6,7-trioxa-1-phosphabicy-clo[2.2.2]octane-1-thio ne (TBPS), 1-phenyl-4-t-butyl-2,6,7-trioxabicyclo[2.2.2]octane (TBOB) and picrotoxin failed to displace 50% of [3H]-BIDN binding to rootworm membranes indicating that the bicyclic dinitrile radioligand probes a site distinct from those identified by other convulsant radioligands. 2. Dissociation studies showed that dieldrin, ketoendrin, toxaphene, heptachlor epoxide and alpha and beta endosulphan displace bound [3H]-BIDN from rootworm membranes by a competitive mechanism. 3. Rat brain membranes were also shown to possess a population of saturable, specific [3H]-BIDN binding sites, though of lower affinity than in rootworm and with a different pharmacological profile. Of the insecticidal GABAergic convulsants that displaced [3H]-BIDN from rootworm, cockroach (Periplaneta americana) and rat brain membranes, many were more effective in rootworm. 4. Functional GABA-gated chloride channels of rootworm nervous system and of cockroach nerve and muscle were blocked by BIDN, whereas cockroach neuronal GABA(B) receptors were unaffected. 5. Expression in Xenopus oocytes of either rat brain mRNA, or cDNA-derived RNA encoding a GABA receptor subunit (Rdl) that is expressed widely in the nervous system of Drosophila melanogaster resulted in functional, homo-oligomeric GABA receptors that were blocked by BIDN. Thus, BIDN probes a novel site on GABA-gated Cl- channels to which a number of insecticidally-active molecules bind.