The effects of group II and group III metabotropic glutamate receptor agonists on synaptic responses evoked by primary afferent stimulation in the dorsal horn, but mostly substantia gelatinosa, neurons were studied in the spinal cord slice preparation using conventional intracellular recording technique. Bath application of a potent metabotropic glutamate receptor 2- and 3-selective agonist (2S,1'R,2'R,3'R)-2-(2',3'-dicarboxycyclopropyl) glycine reversibly suppressed monosynaptic and polysynaptic excitatory postsynaptic potentials evoked by A primary afferent fibers stimulation, the effect likely mediated by mGlu3 receptor subtype. This suppressing effect of (2S,1'R,2'R,3'R)-2-(2',3'-dicarboxycyclopropyl) glycine on primary afferent neurotransmission was dose dependent and reduced by (S)-alpha-ethylglutamate, a group II metabotropic glutamate receptor antagonist. (2S,1'R,2'R,3'R)-2-(2',3'-dicarboxycyclopropyl) glycine suppressed excitatory postsynaptic potentials without inducing detectable changes of postsynaptic membrane potential and neuronal input resistance in dorsal horn neurons. The paired-pulse depression at excitatory synapses between primary afferent fibers and dorsal horn neurons was reduced by (2S,1'R,2'R,3'R)-2-(2', 3'-dicarboxycyclopropyl) glycine application, suggesting a presynaptic site of action. The selective group III metabotropic glutamate receptor agonist (S)-2-amino-4-phosphonobutanoate also depressed A afferent fibers-evoked monosynaptic and polysynaptic excitatory postsynaptic potentials in a dose-dependent and reversible manner. The concentration-dependence of (S)-2-amino-4-phosphonobutanoate-mediated depression was most consistent with activation of mGlu receptor subtypes 4 and 7. However, on the basis of anatomical distribution of mGlu 4 and 7 subtypes, it is also possible that the (S)-2-amino-4-phosphonobatanoate effect is due to interaction with mGlu 7 receptor alone. (RS)-alpha-cyclopropyl-4-phosphonophenylglycine a preferential antagonist at group III metabotropic glutamate receptors, completely reversed the depressant effects of (S)-2-amino-4-phosphonobutanoate on both monosynaptic and polysynaptic responses. (S)-2-amino-4-phosphonobutanoate reduced the paired-pulse depression at excitatory synapses between primary afferent fibers and dorsal horn neurons, but did not alter their postsynaptic membrane potential and input resistance. A clear facilitation of the (S)-2-amino-4-phosphonobutanoate-induced depression of monosynaptic and polysynaptic excitatory postsynaptic potentials in the absence of gamma-aminobutyric acid-subtype A receptor- and glycine-mediated synaptic inhibition was shown. Besides the depressant effect on excitatory synaptic transmission, inhibitory actions of group II and III metabotropic glutamate receptor agonists on the inhibitory postsynaptic potentials evoked by primary afferent stimulation in dorsal horn neurons were observed. These results suggest that group II and group III metabotropic glutamate receptors are expressed at primary afferent synapses in the dorsal horn region, and activation of the receptors suppresses synaptic transmission by an action on the presynaptic site.