1. The metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) are a family of G-protein linked receptors that can be divided into three groups (group I, II and III). A number of studies have implicated group I mGluR activation in acute neuronal injury, but until recently it was not possible to pharmacologically differentiate the roles of the two individual subunits (mGluR1 and mGluR5) in this group. 2. We investigated the role of mGluR5 in acute NMDA and glutamate mediated neurodegeneration in cultured rat cortical cells using the mGluR5 antagonists MPEP and SIB-1893, and found that they provide significant protection at concentrations of 20 or 200 microM. 3. These compounds act as effective mGluR5 antagonists in our cell culture system, as indicated by the ability of SIB-1893 to prevent phosphoinositol hydrolysis induced by the specific mGluR5 agonist, (RS)-2-chloro-5-hydroxyphenylglycine (CHPG). 4. However, they also significantly reduce NMDA evoked current recorded from whole cells voltage clamped at -60 mV, and significantly decrease the duration of opening of NMDA channels recorded in the outside out patch configuration. 5. This suggests that although MPEP and SIB-1893 are effective mGluR5 antagonists, they also act as noncompetitive NMDA receptor antagonists. Therefore, the neuroprotective effects of these compounds are most likely mediated through their NMDA receptor antagonist action, and caution should be exercised when drawing conclusions about the roles of mGluR5 based on their use.