Differential sensitivity to glutamate has been proposed to contribute to the cell-type-specific vulnerability observed in neurological disorders affecting the striatum such as Huntington's disease (HD) and global ischemia. Under these pathological conditions striatal spiny neurons are selectively lost while large aspiny (LA) cholinergic interneurons are spared. We studied the electrophysiological effects of metabotropic glutamate receptor (mGluR) activation in striatal spiny neurons and LA interneurons in order to define the role of these receptors in the pathophysiology of the striatum. DCG-IV and L-SOP, agonists for group II and III mGluRs respectively, produced a presynaptic inhibitory effect on corticostriatal glutamatergic excitatory synaptic potentials in both spiny neurons and LA interneurons. Activation of group I mGluRs by the selective agonist 3,5-DHPG produced no detectable effects on membrane properties and glutamatergic synaptic transmission in spiny neurons while it caused a slow membrane depolarization in LA interneurons coupled to increased input resistance. In combined electrophysiological and microfluorometric recordings, 3,5-DHPG strongly enhanced membrane depolarizations and intracellular Ca2+ accumulation induced by NMDA applications in spiny neurons but not in LA interneurons. Activation of protein kinase C (PKC) by phorbol 12,13-diacetate mimicked this latter action of 3,5-DHPG while the facilitatory effect of 3,5-DHPG was prevented by calphostin C, an inhibitor of PKC. These data indicate that a positive interaction between NMDA receptors and group I mGluRs, via PKC activation, is differently expressed in these two neuronal subtypes. Our data also suggest that differential effects of the activation of group I mGluRs, but not of group II and III mGluRs, might partially account for the selective vulnerability to excitotoxic damage observed within the striatum.