Fast excitatory transmission in the vertebrate central nervous system is mediated mainly by L-glutamate. On the basis of pharmacological, physiological and agonist binding properties, the ionotropic glutamate receptors are classified into NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate), AMPA (alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-isoxazole-4-propionate) and kainate subtypes. Sequence homology between complementary DNA clones encoding non-NMDA glutamate receptor subunits reveals at least two subunit classes: the GluR1 to GluR4 class and the GluR5 class. Here we report the cloning and expression of a functional rat glutamate receptor subunit cDNA, GluR6, which has a very different pharmacology from that of the GluR1-GluR4 class. Receptors generated from the GluR1-GluR4 class have a higher apparent affinity for AMPA than for kainate. When expressed in Xenopus oocytes the homomeric GluR6 receptor is activated by kainate, quisqualate and L-glutamate but not by AMPA, and the apparent affinity for kainate is higher than for receptors from the GluR1-GluR4 class. Desensitization of the receptor was observed with continuous application of agonist. The homomeric GluR6 glutamate receptor exhibits an outwardly rectifying current-voltage relationship. In situ hybridizations reveal a pattern of GluR6 gene expression reminiscent of the binding pattern obtained with [3H]kainate.