The present study sought to determine whether small-conductance, Ca2+-activated K+ currents underlie the afterhyperpolarization (AHP) in neurons of the preoptic area (POA), a brain region important in controlling reproduction. We used an ovariectomized, female guinea pig model to test two hypotheses: 1) the current associated with the AHP (I(AHP)) regulates the firing rate of POA neurons and 2) amine neurotransmitters modulate it in a gonadal steroid-sensitive manner. Intracellular recordings followed by combined histofluorescence/in situ hybridization for glutamic acid decarboxylase, 65-kDa isomer, revealed that POA neurons, including gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)ergic neurons, exhibited an AHP and spike frequency adaptation. The corresponding I(AHP) was sensitive to antagonism by CdCl2 (200 microM), apamin (0.3-1 microM), and dequalinium (3 microM). The beta-adrenergic receptor agonist isoproterenol inhibited the I(AHP) in a dose-dependent, timolol-sensitive fashion. In addition, the alpha1-adrenergic receptor agonist methoxamine dose dependently inhibited the I(AHP) in a prazosin-sensitive manner and increased neuronal firing rate. Twenty-four-hour pretreatment with estradiol benzoate (EB; 25 microg, s.c.) markedly potentiated the inhibitory effect of methoxamine on the I(AHP), whereas that for isoproterenol was unaffected. Similarly, bath application of 17beta-estradiol (100 nM; 15-20 min) mimicked the effect of EB on the methoxamine-induced inhibition of the I(AHP). Thus, POA GABAergic neurons express an apamin-sensitive channel that mediates, at least in part, the I(AHP), and tempers the excitability of these cells. Furthermore, these studies demonstrate that estrogen enhances the alpha1-adrenergic receptor-mediated inhibition of this current.