Evidence from toxicological studies suggested that an ionotropic GABA receptor of novel pharmacology (picrotoxin-insensitive, bicucullinesensitive) exists in the chick embryo retina. In this report, we provide direct morphological and electrophysiological evidence for the existence of such an iGABA receptor. Chick embryo retinas (14-16 days old) incubated in the presence of kainic acid showed pronounced histopathology in all retinal layers. Maximal protection from this toxicity required a combination of bicuculline and picrotoxin. Individual application of the antagonists indicated that a picrotoxininsensitive, bicuculline-sensitive GABA receptor is likely to be present on ganglion and amacrine, but not bipolar, cells. GABA currents in embryonic and mature chicken retinal neurons were measured by whole cell patch clamp. GABA was puffed at the dendritic processes in the IPL. Picrotoxin (500 μM, in the bath) eliminated all (>95%) the GABA current in the majority of ganglion and amacrine cells tested, but many cells possessed a substantial picrotoxin-insensitive component. This current was eliminated by bicuculline (200 μM). This current was not a transporter-associated current, since it was not altered by GABA transport blockers or sodium removal. The current-voltage relation was linear and reversed near EC1, as expected for a ligand-gated chloride current. Both pentobarbital and lorazepam enhanced the picrotoxin-insensitive current. We conclude that chicken retinal ganglion and amacrine cells express a GABA receptor that is GABA-A-like, in that it can be blocked by bicuculline, and positively modulated by barbiturates and benzodiazepines, but is insensitive to the noncompetitive blocker picrotoxin. Understanding the molecular properties of this receptor will be important for understanding both physiological GABA neurotransmission and the pathology of GABA receptor overactivation.