Sodium channel currents were recorded in excised inside-out patches from immature (P(4-10)) and older (P(20-46)) rat CA1 neurones. Channel conductance was 16.6+/-0.013 pS (P(20-46)) and 19.0+/-0.031 pS (P(4-10)). Opening patterns varied with step voltage and with age. In some patches bursting was apparent at voltages positive to -30 mV. Non-bursting behaviour was more dominant in patches from younger animals. In older animals mean open time (m.o.t.) was best described by two exponentials especially in the older cells; in the immature, there were fewer cases with two exponentials. The time constant of inactivation (tau(h)) estimated in ensemble averages was best described by two exponentials (tau(hf) and tau(hs)) in most patches from older cells. tau(hf) decreased with depolarization; tau(hs) increased in the range -30 to 0 mV. The voltage dependence of tau(hf) in the older cells is identical to that of the single tau(h) found in the younger; the results indicate a dominance of tau(hf) in the younger. Patches from younger cells more often showed one apparent active channel; in such cases, m.o.t. was described by a single exponential. However, in two cases, channels showed bursting behaviour with one of these channels showing a shift between bursting and non-bursting modes. Our findings are consistent with a heterogeneous channel population and with changes in the population in the course of maturation.