The effect of lanthanum (La) on kainate (KA) responses in neurons acutely dissociated from the rat sacral dorsal commissural nucleus (SDCN) was investigated using the nystatin-perforated patch-recording configuration under voltage-clamp conditions. The responses to KA were mediated by activation of the alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPA) receptors in SDCN neurons. La(3+) reversibly inhibited KA (100 microM) activated currents (I(KA)) in a concentration-dependent manner over the range from 30 microM to 30 mM, with IC(50) values of 0.64 +/- 0.06 mM at a holding potential (V(H)) of -40 mV. Our further study indicated that the effects of La(3+) on I(KA) were voltage independent. Moreover, the inhibition was not use dependent and was not overcome by increasing the concentration of agonist. These findings indicate that La(3+) is an efficacious inhibitor of AMPA receptor mediated responses which may contribute to its cytotoxic effect.