1. The development of resistance to all chemotherapeutic agents increases and needs to be addressed. We are interested in resistance in parasitic nematodes to the anthelmintic levamisole. During studies on methyridine, we found that it gave us a new insight into pharmacological changes associated with levamisole resistance. Initially, electrophysiological investigation using a two-micropipette current-clamp recording technique revealed that methyridine acts as a cholinergic agonist on nematode muscle receptors (Ascaris suum). Methyridine (>30 microm) produced reversible concentration-dependent depolarizations and increases in input conductance. Mecamylamine (30 microm) and paraherquamide (0.3 microm) produced reversible antagonism of the depolarization and conductance responses to methyridine. These observations suggest that methyridine, like acetylcholine and levamisole, gates ion channels on the muscle of parasitic nematodes. 2. The antagonistic effects of dihydro-beta-erythroidine and paraherquamide on methyridine-induced contractions of A. suum muscle flaps were then examined to determine if methyridine showed subtype selectivity for N-subtype (nicotine-sensitive) or L-subtype (levamisole-sensitive) acetylcholine receptors. Dihydro-beta-erythroidine weakly antagonized the effects of methyridine (but had no effect on levamisole responses). The antagonism of methyridine (pA2, 5.9) and nicotine (pA2, 6.1) by paraherquamide was similar, but was less than the antagonism of levamisole (pA2, 7.0). The antagonist profiles suggested that methyridine has a selective action on the N-subtype rather than on the L-subtype. 3. A novel use for a larval inhibition migration assay was made using L3 larvae of Oesophagostomum dentatum. Inhibitory effects of nicotine, levamisole, pyrantel and methyridine on the migration of larvae of levamisole-sensitive (SENS) and levamisole-resistant (LEV-R) isolates were tested at different concentrations. Levamisole and pyrantel (putative L-subtype-selective agonists) concentration-response plots were displaced to the right in LEV-R isolates. Nicotine (an N-subtype-selective agonist) and methyridine produced little shift in concentration-response plots in the LEV-R isolates. Resistance dose ratios were used to calculate the relative selectivity, rhoL, for the L-type receptor (levamisole rhoL=1.0; pyrantel rhoL=0.93; methyridine rhoL=0.17; nicotine rhoL=0.06). These observations reveal an N-subtype-selective action of methyridine and suggest that levamisole resistance may be associated with a loss of the L-subtype, but not the N-subtype receptors. The pharmacology of methyridine suggests an approach for the treatment of levamisole-resistant parasites.