Depolarizing bipolar cells (DBCs) of the retina are the only neurons in the vertebrate central nervous system known to be hyperpolarized by the neurotransmitter glutamate. Both glutamate and its analogue L-2-amino-4-phosphonobutyrate (APB) hyperpolarize DBCs by decreasing membrane conductance. Furthermore, glutamate responses in DBCs slowly decrease during whole-cell recording, suggesting that the response involves a second messenger system. Here we report that intracellular cyclic GMP or GTP activates a membrane conductance that is suppressed by APB, resulting in an enhanced APB response. In the presence of GTP-gamma-S, APB causes an irreversible suppression of the conductance. Inhibitors of G-protein activation or phosphodiesterase activity decrease the APB response. Thus, the DBC glutamate receptor seems to close ion channels by increasing the rate of cGMP hydrolysis by a G protein-mediated process that is strikingly similar to light transduction in photoreceptors.