Excitatory amino acids mediate fast synaptic transmission in the central nervous system through the activation of at least three distinct ionotropic receptors: N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA), the alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-isoxasole-4-propionate (AMPA)/quisqualate (QUIS) and the kainate subtypes (for reviews, see refs 1, 2). They also activate the additional QUIS 'metabotropic' receptor (sensitive to trans-1-amino-cyclopentyl-1,3-dicarboxylate, ACPD) linked to inositol phospholipid metabolism. We have used hippocampal slice cultures to study the electrophysiological consequences of the metabotropic response. We find that activation of an ACPD-sensitive QUIS receptor produces a 'slow' excitation of CA3 pyramidal cells, resulting from depression of a Ca2(+)-dependent K+ current and a voltage-gated K+ current. Combined voltage-clamp and microfluorometric recordings show that, although these receptors can trigger an increase in intracellular Ca2+ concentration, suppression of K+ currents is independent of changes in intracellular Ca2+. These effects closely resemble those induced by activating muscarinic acetylcholine receptors in the same neurons and suggest that excitatory amino acids not only act as fast ionotropic transmitters but also as slow neuromodulatory transmitters.