Glutamate is the putative neurotransmitter of several clinically important pathways, including cortical association fibers, corticofugal pathways such as the pyramidal tract, and hippocampal, cerebellar, and spinal cord pathways. The excitatory actions of glutamate are mediated by multiple, distinct receptor types and potent receptor antagonists have recently been developed. Glutamate also has neurotoxic properties and can produce "excitotoxic" lesions reminiscent of human neurodegenerative disorders. Abnormally enhanced glutamatergic neurotransmission may cause excitotoxic cell damage and lead to the neuronal death associated with olivopontocerebellar atrophy, Huntington's disease, status epilepticus, hypoxia/ischemia, and hypoglycemia. Pharmacologic manipulation of the glutamatergic system may have great potential for the rational treatment of a variety of neurologic diseases.