The effect of excitatory amino acids and their antagonists on adenosine and inosine release has been investigated on unstimulated and electrically stimulated hippocampal slices. On unstimulated slices N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA), quisqualate and glutamate concentration-dependently evoked the release of adenosine and inosine. The effect of NMDA and quisqualate was antagonized by the NMDA receptor antagonist D(-)-2-amino-7-phosphonoheptanoic acid (D-AP7; 100 mumol/l) and the non-NMDA receptor antagonist 6,7-dinitroquinoxaline-2,3-dione (DNQX; 10 mumol/l) respectively. Glutamate (2 and 10 mmol/l)-evoked adenosine and inosine release was not antagonized by the NMDA and non-NMDA receptor antagonists indicating that the effect of glutamate is due to a metabolic rather than a receptor-mediated effect. Electrical field stimulation at 10 Hz also evoked a release of endogenous adenosine and inosine. Tetrodotoxin (0.5 mumol/l) abolished and absence of Ca2+ markedly reduced the electrically evoked release of adenosine and inosine. Adenosine and inosine release evoked by electrical stimulation at 20 Hz was significantly reduced in the presence of the NMDA receptor antagonist D-AP7, while at 10 Hz no consistent decrease was seen. In the presence of D-AP7 plus DNQX the 10 Hz-evoked adenosine and inosine release was reduced to about half. These data suggest that the electrically evoked release of adenosine and inosine is partly mediated by the release of excitatory amino acids which act at both non-NMDA and NMDA receptors.