A new ionotropic glutamate receptor subunit termed KA-2, cloned from rat brain cDNA, exhibits high affinity for [3H]kainate (KD approximately 15 nM). KA-2 mRNA is widely expressed in embryonic and adult brain. Homomeric KA-2 expression does not generate agonist-sensitive channels, but currents are observed when KA-2 is coexpressed with GluR5 or GluR6 subunits. Specifically, coexpression of GluR5(R) and KA-2 produces channel activity, whereas homomeric expression of either subunit does not. Currents through heteromeric GluR5(Q)/KA-2 channels show more rapid desensitization and different current-voltage relations when compared with GluR5(Q) currents. GluR6/KA-2 channels are gated by AMPA, which fails to gate homomeric GluR6 receptor channels. These results suggest possible in vivo partnership relations for high affinity kainate receptors.