In the vascular system, endothelium-derived relaxing factor (EDRF) is the name of the local hormone released from endothelial cells in response to vasodilators such as acetylcholine, bradykinin and histamine. It diffuses into underlying smooth muscle where it causes relaxation by activating guanylate cyclase, so producing a rise in cyclic GMP levels. It has been known for many years that in the central nervous system (CNS) the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate can elicit large increases in cGMP levels, particularly in the cerebellum where the turnover rate of cGMP is low. Recent evidence indicates that cell-cell interactions are involved in this response. We report here that by acting on NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) receptors on cerebellar cells, glutamate induces the release of a diffusible messenger with strikingly similar properties to EDRF. This messenger is released in a Ca2+-dependent manner and its activity accounts for the cGMP responses that take place following NMDA receptor activation. In the CNS, EDRF may link activation of postsynaptic NMDA receptors to functional modifications in neighbouring presynaptic terminals and glial cells.