The neurochemical effects of the tremorgenic mycotoxins Verruculogen and Penitrem A, which produce a neurotoxic syndrome characterized by sustained tremors, were studied using sheep and rat synaptosomes. The toxins were administered in vivo, either by chronic feeding (sheep) or ip injection 45 min prior to sacrifice (rat). Synaptosomes were subsequently prepared from cerebrocortical and spinal cord/medullary regions of rat, and corpus striatum of sheep. Penitrem A (400 mg mycelium/kg) increased the spontaneous release of endogenous glutamate, GABA, and aspartate by 213%, 455%, and 227%, respectively, from cerebrocortical synaptosomes. Verruculogen (400 mg mycelium/kg) increased the spontaneous release of glutamate and aspartate by 1,300% and 1,200% respectively, but not that of GABA, from cerebrocortical synaptosomes. The spontaneous release of the transmitter amino acids or other amino acids was not increased by the tremorgens in spinal cord/medullary synaptosomes. Penitrem A pretreatment reduced the Veratrine (75 microM) stimulated release of glutamate, aspartate and GABA from cerebrocortical synaptosomes by 33%, 46%, and 11% respectively, and the stimulated release of glycine and GABA from spinal cord/medulla synaptosomes by 67% and 32%, respectively. Verruculogen pretreatment did not alter the Veratrine-induced release of transmitter amino acids from cerebrocortex and spinal cord/medulla synaptosomes. Penitrem A pretreatment increased the spontaneous release of aspartate, glutamate and GABA by 68%, 62%, and 100%, respectively, from sheep corpus striatum synaptosomes but did not alter the synthesis and release of dopamine in this tissue. Verruculogen was shown to cause a substantial increase (300-400%) in the miniature-end-plate potential frequency at the locust neuromuscular junction. The response was detectable within 1 min, rose to a maximum within 5-7 min, and declined to the control rate over a similar period. No change in the amplitude of the m.e.p.p.s was observed. These effects of the tremorgens on transmitter release are interpreted in terms of their mode of action.