Monosodium glutamate (MSG) elicits a unique taste in humans called umami. Recent molecular studies suggest that glutamate receptors similar to those in brain are present in taste cells, but their precise role in taste transduction remains to be elucidated. We used giga-seal whole cell recording to examine the effects of MSG and glutamate receptor agonists on membrane properties of taste cells from rat fungiform papillae. MSG (1 mM) induced three subsets of responses in cells voltage-clamped at -80 mV: a decrease in holding current (subset I), an increase in holding current (subset II), and a biphasic response consisting of an increase, followed by a decrease in holding current (subset III). Most subset II glutamate responses were mimicked by the ionotropic glutamate receptor (iGluR) agonist N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA). The current was potentiated by glycine and was suppressed by the NMDA receptor antagonist D(-)-2-amino-5-phosphonopentanoic acid (AP5). The group III metabotropic glutamate receptor (mGluR) agonist L-2-amino-4-phosphonobutyric acid (L-AP4) usually mimicked the subset I glutamate response. This hyperpolarizing response was suppressed by the mGluR antagonist (RS)-alpha-cyclopropyl-4-phosphonophenylglycine (CPPG) and by 8-bromo-cAMP, suggesting a role for cAMP in the transduction pathway. In a small subset of taste cells, L-AP4 elicited an increase in holding current, resulting in taste cell depolarization under current clamp. Taken together, our results suggest that NMDA-like receptors and at least two types of group III mGluRs are present in taste receptor cells, and these may be coactivated by MSG. Further studies are required to determine which receptors are located on the apical membrane and how they contribute to the umami taste.