The gene superfamily of ligand-gated ion channel (LGIC) receptors is composed of members of excitatory LGIC receptors (ELGIC) and inhibitory LGIC receptors (ILGIC), all using amino acids as ligands. The ILGICs, including GABAA, Gly, and GluCl receptors, conduct Cl- when the ligand is bound. To evaluate the phylogenetic relationships among ILGIC members, 90 protein sequences were analyzed by both maximum-parsimony and distance matrix-based methods. The strength of the resulting phylogenetic trees was evaluated by means of bootstrap. Four major phylogenetic branches are recognized. Branch I, called BZ, for the majority of the members are known to be related to benzodiazepine binding, is subdivided into IA, composed of all GABAA receptor alpha subunits, and IB, composed of the gamma and epsilon subunits, which are shown to be tightly linked. Branch II, named NB for non-benzodiazepine binding, and consisting of GABAA receptor beta, delta, pi, and rho subunits, is further subdivided into IIA, containing beta subunits; IIB, containing delta, and pi subunits; and IIC, containing rho subunits. Branch IIIA, composed of vertebrate Gly receptors, is loosely clustered with Branch IIIB, composed of invertebrate GluCl receptors, to form Branch III, which is designated NA for being non-GABA responsive. Branch IV is called UD for being undefined in specificity. The existence of primitive forms of GABAA receptor non-beta subunits in invertebrates is first suggested by the present analysis, and the identities of sequences p25123 from Drosophila melanogaster, s34469 from Lymnaea stagnalis, and u14635 and p41849 from C. aenorhabditis elegans are determined to be different from their previously given annotations. The proposed branching classification of ILGICs provides a phylogenetic map, based on protein sequences, for tracing the evolutionary pathways of ILGIC receptor subunits and determining the identities of newly discovered subunits on the basis of their protein sequences.