Excitatory amino acid transporters (EAATs) are the primary regulators of extracellular glutamate concentrations in the central nervous system. Among the five known human EAAT subtypes, the glial carriers, EAAT1 and EAAT2 have the greatest impact on clearance of glutamate released during neurotransmission. Studies of carriers expressed on neurons, Purkinje cells and photoreceptor cells (EAAT3, EAAT4 and EAAT5, respectively) suggest more subtle roles for these subtypes in regulating excitability and signalling. The data suggest that EAA transporters may influence glutamatergic transmission by regulating the amount of glutamate available to activate pre- and post-synaptic metabotropic receptors and by altering neuronal excitability through a transporter-associated anion conductance that is activated by carrier substrates. Recent studies on structural, mechanistic and physiological aspects of carrier function in a variety of model systems and organisms have led to surprising insights into how excitatory amino acid transporters shape cellular communication in the nervous system.