Radial glia (Muller cells) of the vertebrate retina appear to be intimately involved in regulating the actions of amino acid neurotransmitters. One of the amino acids thought to be important in mediating retinal information flow is gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). The findings of this study indicate that enzymatically isolated skate Muller cells are depolarized by GABA and the GABAA agonist muscimol and that the actions of these agents are reduced by bicuculline and picrotoxin. Membrane currents induced by GABA under voltage clamp were dose dependent, were associated with an increase in membrane conductance, and showed marked desensitization when the concentration of GABA exceeded 2.5 microM. The responses had a reversal potential close to that calculated for chloride, indicating that the currents were generated by ions passing through channels. These data support the view that skate Muller cells possess functional GABAA receptors. The presence of such receptors on retinal glia may have important implications for the role of Muller cells in maintaining the constancy of the extracellular milieu, for neuron-glia interactions within the retina, and for theories concerning the generation of the electroretinogram.