An increasing body of evidence suggests that native kainate receptors form ion channels from homomeric and heteromeric combinations of five receptor subunits: GluR5, GluR6, GluR7, KA1 and KA2. We have examined the activity of agonists and antagonists at recombinant human kainate receptors expressed in HEK293 cells, using both whole-cell electrophysiological recording and 96-well plate fluo-3 based calcium microfluorimetry (FLIPR). Both homomeric (GluR5 and GluR6) and heteromeric (GluR5/6, GluR5/KA2 and GluR6/KA2) receptors were examined. Heteromeric receptor assemblies showed electrophysiological and pharmacological profiles which were distinct from homomeric channels. Several agonists, including AMPA, ATPA and (S)-5-iodowillardiine, and antagonists, including gamma-D-glutamylaminomethylsulphonic acid (GAMS) and the decahydroisoquinoline compounds LY293558, LY377770 and LY382884, were found to act at GluR5-containing channels while having no effect at GluR6 homomers. AMPA, ATPA and (S)-5-iodowillardiine did activate GluR6/KA2 heteromers, but only as partial agonists. Additionally, ATPA was shown to act as an antagonist at homomeric GluR6 receptors at high concentrations (IC50 approximately 2 mM). Kynurenic acid was also found to differentiate between GluR6 and GluR6/KA2 receptors, antagonizing glutamate at GluR6 (IC50 = 0.4 mM), while having no effect at GluR6/KA2 channels. The results of the current study provide a broad pharmacological characterization of both homomeric and heteromeric recombinant human kainate receptors, and identify which compounds are likely to be useful tools for studying these various receptor subtypes.