The cellular mechanisms coupling mechanical loading with bone remodeling remain unclear. In the CNS, the excitatory amino acid glutamate (Glu) serves as a potent neurotransmitter exerting its effects via various membrane Glu receptors (GluR). Nerves containing Glu exist close to bone cells expressing functional GluRs. Demonstration of a mechanically sensitive glutamate/aspartate transporter protein and the ability of glutamate to stimulate bone resorption in vitro suggest a role for glutamate linking mechanical load and bone remodeling. We used immunohistochemical techniques to identify the expression of N-methyl-d-aspartate acid (NMDA) and non-NMDA (AMPA or kainate) ionotropic GluR subunits on bone cells in vivo. In bone sections from young adult rats, osteoclasts expressed numerous GluR subunits including AMPA (GluR2/3 and GluR4), kainic acid (GluR567) and NMDA (NMDAR2A, NMDAR2B and NMDAR2C) receptor subtypes. Bone lining cells demonstrated immunoexpression for NMDAR2A, NMDAR2B, NMDAR2C, GluR567, GluR23, GluR2 and GluR4 subunits. Immunoexpression was not evident on osteocytes, chondrocytes or vascular channels. To investigate the effects of mechanical loading on GluR expression, we used a Materials Testing System (MTS) to apply 10 N sinusoidal axial compressive loads percutaneously to the right limbs (radius/ulna, tibia/fibula) of rats. Each limb underwent 300-load cycles/day (cycle rate, 1 Hz) for 4 consecutive days. Contralateral, non-loaded limbs served as controls. Mechanically loaded limbs revealed a load-induced loss of immunoexpression for GluR2/3, GluR4, GluR567 and NMDAR2A on osteoclasts and NMDAR2A, NMDAR2B, GluR2/3 and GluR4 on bone lining cells. Both neonatal rabbit and rat osteoclasts were cultured on bone slices to investigate the effect of the NMDA receptor antagonist, MK801, and the AMPA/kainic acid receptor antagonist, NBQX, on osteoclast resorptive activity in vitro. The inhibition of resorptive function seen suggested that both NMDAR and kainic acid receptor function are required for normal osteoclast function. While the exact role of ionotropic GluRs in skeletal tissue remains unclear, the modulation of GluR subunit expression by mechanical loading lends further support for participation of Glu as a mechanical loading effector. These ionotropic receptors appear to be functionally relevant to normal osteoclast resorptive activity.