The effects of spermine and a synthetic analogue (PhTX-343) of the polyamine amide toxin, delta-philanthotoxin, on the responses of Xenopus oocytes to application of amino acids were examined using voltage clamp. The oocytes were injected with either total rat brain RNA or chick cerebrum, poly(A+)RNA. The responses to N-methyl-D-aspartate and L-kainate were potentiated by low concentrations (10(-11)-10(-7) M) of PhTX-343 and by 10(-5)-10(-4) M spermine. There was variability between oocytes in terms of their responsiveness to these compounds and recovery from their effects was slow and often incomplete. Prolonged or repeated applications of PhTX-343 and spermine eventually resulted in inhibition. Higher concentrations of these compounds always inhibited the responses to acidic amino acids. Low concentrations of PhTX-343 and spermine also potentiated the responses to nicotine and gamma-aminobutyric acid. These results are discussed in terms of the postulated polyamine binding site on the N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor.