In the present study, the patch-clamp technique was applied to rat hippocampal neurons or myoballs in culture to study the actions of alpha-conotoxin-ImI on the native alpha-bungarotoxin-sensitive, presumably alpha 7-bearing, neuronal nicotinic receptor and on other ligand-gated channels. Preexposure of the neurons for 5 min to alpha-conotoxin-ImI decreased the peak amplitude of alpha-BGT-sensitive currents (referred to as type IA currents) in a concentration-dependent fashion. Several lines of evidence revealed that the inhibitory effect of alpha-conotoxin-ImI was competitive with respect to the agonist (IC50 approximately 85 nM) and reversible by washing. At 300 nM, alpha-conotoxin-ImI decreased by only 15% the peak amplitude of ACh-evoked currents in rat myoballs, did not affect the activation of currents gated by gamma-aminobutyric acid, glycine, N-methyl-D-aspartate, kainate, or quisqualate in hippocampal neurons, but reduced to approximately 60% the peak amplitude and shortened the decay phase of curare-sensitive, serotonin-gated currents in these neurons. The competitive and reversible nature of the alpha-conotoxin-ImI-induced inhibition of native alpha 7-bearing neuronal nicotinic receptors makes this peptide a valuable new tool for the functional and structural characterization of these receptors in the central nervous system.