1. Different expression levels of the human type 1alpha metabotropic glutamate (mGlu1alpha) receptor were obtained in transfected Chinese hamster ovary cells using an isopropyl beta-D-thiogalactopyranoside (IPTG) inducible system. Expression of mGlu1alpha receptors could not be detected using immunoblotting or immunocytochemical approaches in non-induced cells, however, controlled expression could be induced following IPTG addition in a time- and concentration-dependent manner. 2. In induced cells (100 microM IPTG, 20 h) the agonists L-quisqualate or 1-aminocyclopentane-1S,3R-dicarboxylic acid stimulated large increases in [3H]-inositol (poly)phosphate (in the presence of Li+) and inositol, 1,4,5-trisphosphate levels. 3. Induction with 1-100 microM IPTG allowed the receptor density to be increased incrementally and this not only resulted in an increase in the maximum response to L-quisqualate, 1-aminocyclopentane-1S,3R-dicarboxylic acid and (S)-3,5-dihydroxy-phenylglycine, but also in an increase in the respective potencies of each agent to activate phosphoinositide hydrolysis. 4. The intrinsic activity of the partial agonist 1-aminocyclopentane-1S,3R-dicarboxylic acid dramatically increased with increasing receptor expression. 5. The activities of the competitive mGlu1alpha receptor antagonists (S)-alpha-methyl-4-carboxyphenylglycine and (S)-4-carboxy-3-hydroxyphenylglycine for inhibition of the effects of L-quisqualate or (S)-3,5-dihydroxyphenylglycine were found to be independent of the receptor expression level. 6. When the mGlu1alpha receptor was expressed at very high levels, no evidence for receptor constitutive activity could be detected, and none of the antagonists tested revealed either any intrinsic activity or negative efficacy. 7. These data demonstrate that both the potency and efficacy of mGlu1alpha receptor agonists are influenced by expression level, whilst mGlu1alpha receptor antagonist activities are independent of expression level.