Patch-clamp recording techniques were used to study the properties of amino acid-activated channels in cultured "organotypic" slices from rat cerebellum and hippocampus. Hippocampal pyramidal cells responded to the three main glutamatergic agonists, N-methyl-D-aspartate (N-Me-D-Asp), quisqualate, and kainate, whereas Purkinje cells responded only to quisqualate and kainate. Analysis of single-channel events recorded in outside-out patches from hippocampal neurons showed large conductance events (50 pS), which occurred more frequently in the presence of glycine. These events could be produced by N-Me-D-Asp and also, at low frequency, by quisqualate. On the other hand, 50-pS events were never observed in Purkinje neurons. This supports the hypothesis that N-Me-D-Asp and "non-N-Me-D-Asp" receptors are distinct molecular entities. Comparison of whole-cell and outside-out patch recordings from Purkinje cells revealed a clear spatial segregation of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate receptors: although GABA receptors are found at high density in somatic membrane, quisqualate and kainate receptors are mostly extrasomatic. The results show that organotypic slice cultures are amenable to patch-clamp methods. They also show that, in these cultures, amino acids receptors have specific distribution patterns according to cell type and to region within a cell.