Identified cholinergic and a subtype of non-cholinergic, fast-firing neurons were recorded intracellularly in vitro from slices of guinea-pig brain. Recorded neurons were within the boundaries of the medial septum and vertical limb of the diagonal band of the forebrain. The effects of superfused neurotensin and neurotensin receptor antagonists were measured under single-electrode current clamp. Neurotensin consistently caused a dose-dependent, slow depolarization of cholinergic neurons that was accompanied by an increase in membrane resistance and a block of the long-duration (1-10 s) post-spike afterhyperpolarization when present. Neurotensin also blocked a shorter duration, slow afterhyperpolarization, but only in a minority of cholinergic neurons. When present, inhibition of the slow afterhyperpolarization changed the spike pattern from single spikes to short bursts. Inhibition of post-spike afterhyperpolarizations by neurotensin reversed more slowly than did other effects of neurotensin. Tetrodotoxin did not prevent the depolarizing effect of neurotensin. The non-selective neurotensin receptor antagonist, SR142948A, blocked the depolarizing effect of neurotensin but the low-affinity receptor antagonist, levocabastine, did not. A subgroup of noncholinergic, fast-firing neurons (23%) was also depolarized by neurotensin, an effect antagonized by SR142948A but not levocabastine. Neurotensin did not effect post-spike voltage transients or change the firing pattern of non-cholinergic neurons. These data suggest that neurotensin causes a slow depolarization and increased excitability of cholinergic and some noncholinergic neurons in an area of the brain that projects to the hippocampus. Neurotensin type 1 receptors appear to mediate these effects. Neurotensin may modulate hippocampal-dependent learning and memory processes through its effects on septohippocampal neurons.