Calcium/phospholipid-dependent protein kinase (protein kinase C, PKC) has been suggested to play a role in the sensitivity of gamma-aminobutyrate type A (GABAA) receptors to ethanol. We tested a line of null mutant mice that lacks the gamma isoform of PKC (PKC gamma) to determine the role of this brain-specific isoenzyme in ethanol sensitivity. We found that the mutation reduced the amount of PKC gamma immunoreactivity in cerebellum to undetectable levels without altering the levels of the alpha, beta I, or beta II isoforms of PKC. The mutant mice display reduced sensitivity to the effects of ethanol on loss of righting reflex and hypothermia but show normal responses to flunitrazepam or pentobarbital. Likewise, GABAA receptor function of isolated brain membranes showed that the mutation abolished the action of ethanol but did not alter actions of flunitrazepam or pentobarbital. These studies show the unique interactions of ethanol with GABAA receptors and suggest protein kinase isoenzymes as possible determinants of genetic differences in response to ethanol.