Kainic acid is a potent neurotoxin for certain neurons. Its neurotoxicity is thought to be mediated by an excitatory amino-acid-gated ion channel (ionotropic receptor) possessing nanomolar affinity for kainate. Here we describe a new member of the rat excitatory amino-acid receptor gene family, KA-1, that has a 30% sequence similarity with the previously characterized alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazole propionic acid (AMPA) receptor subunits GluR-A to -D. The pharmacological profile of expressed recombinant KA-1 determined in binding experiments with [3H]kainate is different from that of the cloned AMPA receptors and similar to the mammalian high-affinity kainate receptor (kainate greater than quisqualate greater than glutamate much greater than AMPA) with a dissociation constant of about 5 nM for kainate. The selectively high expression of KA-1 messenger RNA in the CA3 region of the hippocampus closely corresponds to autoradiographically located high-affinity kainate binding sites. This correlation, as well as the particular in vivo pattern of neurodegeneration observed on kainate-induced neurotoxicity, suggests that KA-1 participates in receptors mediating the kainate sensitivity of neurons in the central nervous system.