The properties of functional kainate receptor-mediated EPSCs were studied in acute slices from 19-35-day-old rats. EPSCs elicited in pyramidal and fast-spiking cells in layers 2/3 and 5 of the rat motor cortex by extracellular single shock stimulus in the presence of GYKI 53655 and D-2-amino-5-phosphopentanoic resulted in a residual current. This current was not enhanced by cyclothiazide but was blocked by 6-cyano-7-nitroquinoxalin-2,3-dione and is thought to be mediated by kainate receptors. These kainate receptor-mediated currents displayed a wide range of time courses depending on which pre-synaptic fibres were activated. With paired recordings, unitary EPSCs elicited in pyramidal cells were almost totally blocked by GYKI 53655 and D-2-amino-5-phosphopentanoic. However, when L-transpyrrolidine-2,4-dicarboxylate (PDC), a glutamate uptake blocker, was introduced in the bath, the amplitude of kainate receptor-mediated currents, which is resistant to GYKI 53655 and D-2-amino-5-phosphopentanoic, was revealed. The rise and decay time constants of the kainate receptor-mediated currents were identical to control EPSCs. PDC was not required to reveal the kainate receptor-mediated currents elicited in fast-spiking cells which also displayed similar rise and decay time constants to the control EPSCs. Excitatory input onto pyramidal and fast-spiking cells in the neocortex mediated by kainate receptors contributed between 14 and 40% of the total control unitary EPSCs which displayed identical time courses to the AMPA receptor-mediated component of the EPSCs. Post-synaptic kainate receptors at connected pyramidal cell synapses may be located extra-synaptically.