It is known that glutamate is a major excitatory transmitter of sensory and cortical afferents to the thalamus. These actions are mediated via several distinct receptors with postsynaptic excitatory effects predominantly mediated by ionotropic receptors of the alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionate (AMPA) and N-methyl-D-aspartate varieties (NMDA). However, there are also other kinds of glutamate receptor present in the thalamus, notably the metabotropic and kainate types, and these may have more complex or subtle roles in sensory transmission. This paper describes recent electrophysiological experiments done in vitro and in vivo which aim to determine how the metabotropic and kainate receptor types can influence transmission through the sensory thalamic relay. A particular focus will be how such mechanisms might operate under physiological conditions.