1. We compared gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)-mediated responses of identified pyramidal cells and fast spiking interneurons in layer V of visual cortical slices from young rats (P11-14). 2. The frequency of spontaneous inhibitory postsynaptic currents (sIPSCs) was similar in pyramidal cells and interneurons (1.7 vs. 1.9 Hz). For events with 10-90% rise times less than 0.9 ms, no significant differences were found in mean amplitude (61 vs. 65 pA), mean rise time (0.58 vs. 0.61 ms), or the first time constant of decay (tau 1, 6.4 vs. 6.5 ms) between pyramidal cells and interneurons. The second decay time constant (tau 2) was significantly longer in interneurons than in pyramidal cells (49 vs. 22 ms). The difference in sIPSC decay kinetics between two cell types also existed in adult rats (P36-42), suggesting the kinetic difference in not due to differential development of GABAA receptors in these cell types. 3. The decay kinetics of monosynaptic evoked IPSCs were also longer in interneurons. As in the case of sIPSCs, the difference was accounted for by the second decay time constant. tau 1 and tau 2 were, respectively, 13 and 64 ms for interneurons and 12 and 47 ms for pyramidal cells. 4. Cell-attached patch recordings revealed that the mean open time for single Cl- channels in response to 2 microM GABA was significantly longer in interneurons than pyramidal cells (5.0 vs. 2.8 ms). The chord conductance of these channels in interneurons (12 pS) was significantly smaller than in pyramidal cells (15 pS). Single channel currents reversed polarity when the pipette potential was approximately -10 mV for both cell types. 5. These results show that there is a functional diversity of GABAA receptors in electrophysiologically and morphologically identified cortical pyramidal cells and interneurons. This diversity might derive from the different molecular composition of the receptors in these two cell types.