Fipronil is the first phenylpyrazole insecticide introduced for pest control. It is effective against some insects that have become resistant to other insecticides, and exhibits low mammalian toxicity. Although fipronil is known to block GABA receptors, the mechanisms of its selective toxicity and efficacy against insects with dieldrin-resistant GABA receptors are not fully understood. We studied the effects of fipronil on the inhibitory glutamate receptor-chloride channel complex, which is found only in invertebrates. Glutamate-activated chloride currents were recorded from neurons isolated from cockroach thoracic ganglia using the whole-cell patch clamp technique. When glutamate was applied to a neuron, it evoked inward currents with an EC50 of 36.8 +/- 3.0 microM and a Hill coefficient of 1.56 +/- 0.17. The similarity between the reversal potential and the calculated chloride equilibrium potential indicated that glutamate-induced currents were carried by chloride ions. Fipronil suppressed the glutamate-induced peak currents in a dose-dependent manner with an IC50 of 0.73 +/- 0.27 microM and a Hill coefficient of 0.68 +/- 0.15. The current decay phases were greatly prolonged after fipronil application in a concentration-dependent manner. Picrotoxinin (PTX) at 100 microM slightly suppressed glutamate-induced currents to 87.8 +/- 3.7% of the control, and dieldrin at 100 microM had no effect (96.7 +/- 3.1%). AP5 and CNQX, mammalian glutamate receptor antagonists, were without effect on glutamate-induced Cl- currents. It is concluded that the potent blocking action of fipronil against glutamate-gated chloride channels may contribute to the higher toxicity against insects than mammals, as well as the efficacy against insects resistant to other insecticides.