Human cortex cerebri and cerebelli xenografts from first-trimester fetal tissue fragments were used to study the effects of ethanol on single human central neurons. Transplants were placed into the anterior eye chamber of athymic nude rats and allowed to develop for 3 to 11 months. Immunohistologic analysis revealed graft structures that stained positively for a number of neuronal, transmitter-related, glial and vascular markers. Superfusion of ethanol (EtOH) elicited a reversible and dose-dependent depression of action potential discharge. At least two populations of neurons could be identified--a more sensitive group with an EC50 of 3.0 mM and a less sensitive group with an EC50 of 22.4 mM. These EtOH levels are within the range eliciting behavioral signs of intoxication in humans. EtOH-induced depressions could be antagonized by administration of the benzodiazepine inverse agonist Ro 15-4513. This study represents the first demonstration, to our knowledge, of the electrophysiologic actions of EtOH on single neurons from human brain, and provides dose-response data collected with known concentrations of EtOH as well as evidence for the blockade of these EtOH effects by the Roche compound.