The non-NMDA family of glutamate receptors comprises a growing number of structurally related subunits (GluR-A to -D or -1 to -4; GluR-5, -6; KA-1). GluR-A to -D appear to constitute the major AMPA receptor subtypes but the functional and pharmacological characteristics of the other subunits are unresolved. Using a mammalian expression system we demonstrate here that homomeric GluR-5 receptors exhibit properties of a high affinity domoate (KD approximately 2 nM) and kainate (KD approximately 70 nM) binding site. For these receptors, the rank order of ligands competing with [3H]kainate binding was domoate much greater than quisqualate approximately glutamate much greater than AMPA approximately CNQX. The respective receptor channels were gated in decreasing order of sensitivity by domoate, kainate, glutamate and AMPA. In contrast to recombinantly expressed GluR-A to -D channels, currents elicited at GluR-5 receptor desensitize channels to all agonists. This property is characteristic of currents in peripheral neurons on sensory ganglia. These findings suggest the existence of at least two distinct types of non-NMDA receptor channels, both gated by AMPA and kainate, but differing in pharmacology and current properties.