Cloned cDNAs encoding two new beta subunits of the rat and bovine GABAA receptor have been isolated using a degenerate oligonucleotide probe based on a highly conserved peptide sequence in the second transmembrane domain of GABAA receptor subunits. The beta 2 and beta 3 subunits share approximately 72% sequence identity with the previously characterized beta 1 polypeptide. Northern analysis showed that both beta 2 and beta 3 mRNAs are more abundant in the brain than beta 1 mRNA. All three beta subunit encoding cDNAs were also identified in a library constructed from adrenal medulla RNA. Each beta subunit, when co-expressed in Xenopus oocytes with an alpha subunit, forms functional GABAA receptors. These results, together with the known alpha subunit heterogeneity, suggest that a variety of related but functionally distinct GABAA receptor subtypes are generated by different subunit combinations.