The effect of ionizing radiation on neuronal membrane function was assessed by measurement of neurotoxin-stimulated /sup 22/Na/sup +/ uptake by rat brain synaptosomes. High-energy electrons and gamma photons were equally effective in reducing the maximal uptake of /sup 22/Na/sup +/ with no significant change in the affinity of veratridine for its binding site in the channel. Ionizing radiation reduced the veratridine-stimulated uptake at the earliest times measured (3 and 5 s), when the rate of uptake was greatest. Batrachotoxin-stimulated /sup 22/Na/sup +/ uptake was less sensitive to inhibition by radiation. The binding of (/sup 3/H)saxitoxin to its receptor in the sodium channel was unaffected by exposure to ionizing radiation. The effect of ionizing radiation on the lipid order of rat brain synaptic plasma membranes was measured by the fluorescence polarization of the molecular probes 1,6-diphenyl-1,3,5-hexatriene and 1-(4-(trimethylammonium)phenyl)-6-phenyl-1,3,5-hexatriene. A dose of radiation that reduced the veratridine-stimulated uptake of /sup 22/Na/sup +/ had no effect on the fluorescence polarization of either probe. These results demonstrate an inhibitory effect of ionizing radiation on the voltage-sensitive sodium channels in rat brain synaptosomes. This effect of radiation is not dependent on changes in the order of membrane lipids.