1. The distribution of ATP-sensitive K+ channels (KATP channels) was investigated in four cell types in hippocampal slices prepared from 10- to 13-day-old rats: CA1 pyramidal cells, interneurones of stratum radiatum in CA1, complex glial cells of the same area and granule cells of the dentate gyrus. The neuronal cell types were identified visually and characterized by the shapes and patterns of their action potentials and by neurobiotin labelling. 2. The patch-clamp technique was used to study the sensitivity of whole-cell currents to diazoxide (0.3 mM), a KATP channel opener, and to tolbutamide (0.5 mM) or glibenclamide (20 microM), two KATP channel inhibitors. The fraction of cells in which whole-cell currents were activated by diazoxide and inhibited by tolbutamide was 26% of pyramidal cells, 89 % of interneurones, 100% of glial cells and 89% of granule cells. The reversal potential of the diazoxide-induced current was at the K+ equilibrium potential and a similar current activated spontaneously when cells were dialysed with an ATP-free pipette solution. 3. Using the single-cell RT-PCR method, the presence of mRNA encoding KATP channel subunits (Kir6.1, Kir6.2, SUR1 and SUR2) was examined in CA1 pyramidal cells and interneurones. Subunit mRNA combinations that can result in functional KATP channels (Kir6.1 together with SUR1, Kir6.2 together with SUR1 or SUR2) were detected in only 17% of the pyramidal cells. On the other hand, KATP channels may be formed in 75% of the interneurones, mainly by the combination of Kir6.2 with SUR1 (58% of all interneurones). 4. The results of these combined analyses indicate that functional KATP channels are present in principal neurones, interneurones and glial cells of the rat hippocampus, but at highly different densities in the four cell types studied.