The GABAergic agonist, muscimol, and antagonists, picrotoxin and bicuculline, have been studied in rats with chronic portacaval shunts and in rats developing hepatic encephalopathy after massive ischemic necrosis due to hepatic artery ligation within 48 hr of a portacaval shunt. After the chronic portacaval shunt and to a lesser extent in normal rats intraventricular muscimol resulted in chewing and eating behavior, ataxia and loss of balance that lasted 2 to 3 hr. Lethargy, stupor and coma did not occur. Intraventricular saline had no effect. Bicuculline i.p. lessened the effects of the muscimol. In rats developing hepatic encephalopathy, intraventricular muscimol shortened the time to precoma and coma by approximately 40%. Bicuculline i.p. counteracted this effect of muscimol significantly. However, neither bicuculline nor picrotoxin given alone altered the times to precoma (Stage III), coma (Stage IV) or death. While hepatic encephalopathy in this experimental model is susceptible to GABAergic effects, its natural progression does not appear to be due to GABA.