Synaptic transmission evoked by focal stimulation in the ventrolateral periaqueductal gray was characterized using the whole-cell recording technique in rat brain slices. At resting membrane potential (-62+/-1 mV), focal stimulation (0.05-0.1 ms, 0.03 Hz) usually evoked a 6-cyano-7-nitroquinoxaline-2, 3-dione-sensitive fast excitatory postsynaptic potential and a DL-2-amino-5-phosphonopentanoic acid-sensitive slow excitatory postsynaptic potential with a bicuculline-sensitive inhibitory postsynaptic potential in between. In the presence of kynurenic acid, bicuculline-sensitive inhibitory postsynaptic currents recorded in the voltage-clamp mode displayed a reversal potential of -68+/-3 mV, resembling GABA(A) receptor-mediated inhibitory postsynaptic currents. However, no GABA(B) receptor-mediated inhibitory postsynaptic current was evoked, even at stronger stimulating intensity. 6-Cyano-7-nitroquinoxaline-2,3-dione-sensitive fast excitatory postsynaptic currents were isolated by DL-2-amino-5-phosphonopentanoic acid plus bicuculline and DL-2-amino-5-phosphonopentanoic acid-sensitive slow fast excitatory postsynaptic currents by bicuculline plus 6-cyano-7-nitroquinoxaline-2,3-dione. Both types of excitatory postsynaptic current reversed at potentials near 0 mV. The I-V curve of slow fast excitatory postsynaptic currents or N-methyl-D-aspartate currents displayed a negative slope at potentials more negative than -30 mV in an Mg(2+)-sensitive manner. The control postsynaptic currents reversed at potentials between -50 and -35 mV, inclined to the reversal potential of GABA(A), but not glutamate, receptor channels. It is concluded that, in the ventrolateral periaqueductal gray, focal stimulation elicits both inhibitory and excitatory transmission, while the former is dominant. The inhibitory transmission is mediated by GABA(A) but not GABA(B) receptors. The excitatory transmission is mediated by glutamate acting on alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methylisoxazole-4-propionate/kainate as well as N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors.