Neurons in the nucleus magnocellularis (nMAG) of the chicken precisely transmit auditory nerve activity via glutamatergic synapses. Using techniques for rapid application of solutions, we have explored the properties of CNQX-sensitive glutamate receptors in whole cells and outside-out patches from the nMAG. Glutamate-evoked current in patches desensitized biphasically to less than 1% of the peak current, with a fast time constant of 960 microseconds at 22 degrees C, decreasing to 570 microseconds at 33 degrees C. Dose-response studies using kainate indicated that at least two agonist molecules bind to gate the channel. We propose a kinetic model that quantitatively describes our experimental observations. The rapid kinetics of this receptor are well suited to allow phase locking of synaptic signals to auditory stimuli.