In the CNS, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) affects neuronal activity through both the ligand-gated GABAA receptor channel and the G protein-coupled GABAB receptor. In the mature nervous system, both receptor subtypes decrease neural excitability, whereas in most neurons during development, the GABAA receptor increases neural excitability and raises cytosolic Ca2+ levels. We used Ca2+ digital imaging to test the hypothesis that GABAA receptor-mediated Ca2+ rises were regulated by GABAB receptor activation. In young, embryonic day 18, hypothalamic neurons cultured for 5 +/- 2 days in vitro, we found that cytosolic Ca2+ rises triggered by synaptically activated GABAA receptors were dramatically depressed (>80%) in a dose-dependent manner by application of the GABAB receptor agonist baclofen (100 nM-100 microM). Coadministration of the GABAB receptor antagonist 2-hydroxy-saclofen or CGP 35348 reduced the inhibitory action of baclofen. Administration of the GABAB antagonist alone elicited a reproducible Ca2+ rise in >25% of all synaptically active neurons, suggesting that synaptic GABA release exerts a tonic inhibitory tone on GABAA receptor-mediated Ca2+ rises via GABAB receptor activation. In the presence of tetrodotoxin the GABAA receptor agonist muscimol elicited robust postsynaptic Ca2+ rises that were depressed by baclofen coadministration. Baclofen-mediated depression of muscimol-evoked Ca2+ rises were observed in both the cell bodies and neurites of hypothalamic neurons taken at embryonic day 15 and cultured for three days, suggesting that GABAB receptors are functionally active at an early stage of neuronal development. Ca2+ rises elicited by electrically induced synaptic release of GABA were largely inhibited (>86%) by baclofen. These results indicate that GABAB receptor activation depresses GABAA receptor-mediated Ca2+ rises by both reducing the synaptic release of GABA and decreasing the postsynaptic Ca2+ responsiveness. Collectively, these data suggest that GABAB receptors play an important inhibitory role regulating Ca2+ rises elicited by GABAA receptor activation. Changes in cytosolic Ca2+ during early neural development would, in turn, profoundly affect a wide array of physiological processes, such as gene expression, neurite outgrowth, transmitter release, and synaptogenesis.