Intracellular recordings were obtained from horizontal cells in the superfused retina-eyecup preparation of the rabbit. Rod- and cone-dominated horizontal cells were studied using bath-applied excitatory amino acid analogues. Cone-dominated horizontal cell somas were depolarized by kainate (KA) or quisqualate (QQ) and their light responses were reduced or abolished. They were not affected by N-methyl-DL-aspartate (NMDLA) at concentrations up to 2 mM or by 2-amino-4-phosphonobutyrate (APB), a selective agonist for the ON bipolar cell. When synaptic transmission was blocked with cobalt, horizontal cell somas were hyperpolarized. Under these conditions, KA and QQ caused large depolarizations suggesting that these agents have a direct action on horizontal cell somas. Excitatory amino acid antagonists such as cis-2,3-piperidine dicarboxylic acid (PDA) and kynurenic acid (Kyn) hyperpolarized horizontal cell somas to the level of the light-driven membrane potential. These antagonists blocked both the light-driven responses and the depolarizing action of KA. The specific NMDA antagonist 2-amino-7-phosphonoheptanoate (AP-7) had no effect on the membrane potential or light-driven responses of horizontal cell somas. In contrast to a previous report, we found no evidence that low concentrations of NMDLA could hyperpolarize horizontal cells or act as a KA antagonist in the rabbit retina. Rod-dominated axon terminals were identified by waveform, threshold, and the presence of a large rod after-potential evoked by high light intensity. These cells were depolarized by KA and their light responses were attenuated. NMDLA and APB had no effect on these cells. The general antagonists, PDA and Kyn, hyperpolarized axon terminals and blocked their light-evoked responses. The specific NMDA antagonist, AP-7, had no effect on these cells. These results suggest that the synaptic receptors that mediate light input to both rod- and cone-dominated horizontal cells are kainate or quisqualate receptors. This implies that the rod and cone transmitters of the rabbit retina are similar, with the characteristics of an excitatory amino acid, such as glutamate.