Glutamate receptor types were examined at the chromatophore synapses of the squids Alloteuthis subulata and Loligo vulgaris, where nerve-induced muscle contraction causes chromatophore expansion. Immunoblotting with antibody raised against a squid AMPA receptor (sGluR) demonstrated that AMPA/kainate receptors are present in squid skin. Application of l-glutamate evoked chromatophore muscle contractions in both ventral and dorsal skins, while NMDA was only active on a subpopulation of dorsal chromatophores. In dorsal skin, neurotransmission was partly blocked by either AMPA/kainate receptor antagonists (CNQX and DNQX) or NMDA receptor antagonists (AP-5 and MK-801) or completely blocked by simultaneous application of both classes of antagonists. In isolated muscle fibres, ionophoretic application of l-glutamate evoked fast inward CNQX- and DNQX-sensitive currents with reversal potentials around +14 mV and a high conductance to Na+. In fibres from dorsal skin only, a slower outward glutamate-sensitive current appeared at positive holding potentials. At negative potentials, currents were potentiated by glycine or by removing external Mg2+ and were blocked by AP-5 and MK-801. Glutamate caused a fast, followed by a slow, transient increase in cytoplasmic Ca2+. The slow component was increased in amplitude and duration by glycine or by lowering external Mg2+ and decreased by AP-5 and MK-801. In cells from ventral skin, no 'NMDA-like responses' were detected. Thus, while AMPA/kainate receptors mediated fast excitatory synaptic transmission and rapid colour change over the whole skin, activation of both AMPA/kainate and NMDA-like receptors in a subpopulation of dorsal chromatophores prolonged the postsynaptically evoked Ca2+ elevation causing temporally extended colour displays with behavioural significance.