Tonic GABA(A) receptor-mediated signaling controls neuronal network excitability in the hippocampus. Although the extracellular concentration of GABA (e[GABA]) is critical in determining tonic conductances, knowledge on how e[GABA] is regulated by different GABA transporters (GATs) in vivo is limited. Therefore, we studied the role of GATs in the regulation of hippocampal e[GABA] using in vivo microdialysis in freely moving rats. Here we show that GAT-1, which is predominantly presynaptically located, is the major GABA transporter under baseline, quiescent conditions. Furthermore, a significant contribution of GAT-3 in regulating e[GABA] was revealed by administration of the GAT-3 inhibitor SNAP-5114 during simultaneous blockade of GAT-1 by NNC-711. Thus, the GABA transporting activity of GAT-3 (the expression of which is confined to astrocytes) is apparent under conditions in which GAT-1 is blocked. However, sustained neuronal activation by K(+)-induced depolarization caused a profound spillover of GABA into the extrasynaptic space and this increase in e[GABA] was significantly potentiated by sole blockade of GAT-3 (i.e. even when uptake of GAT-1 is intact). Furthermore, experiments using tetrodotoxin to block action potentials revealed that GAT-3 regulates extrasynaptic GABA levels from action potential-independent sources when GAT-1 is blocked. Importantly, changes in e[GABA] resulting from both GAT-1 and GAT-3 inhibition directly precipitate changes in tonic conductances in dentate granule cells as measured by whole-cell patch-clamp recording. Thus astrocytic GAT-3 contributes to the regulation of e[GABA] in the hippocampus in vivo and may play an important role in controlling the excitability of hippocampal cells when network activity is increased.