The effect of adenosine and related compounds on the release of endogenous aspartate and glutamate from isolated, superfused rat hippocampal slices was studied at rest and during electrical stimulation of the stratum radiatum in the CA3/CA2 region, using a sensitive mass-spectrometric technique. Evoked extracellular potentials were recorded from the CA1 region. Adenosine, at 3 X 10(-4) M concentration, inhibited the stimulation-evoked potentials and prevented the stimulation-induced release of aspartate and glutamate. Similarly, 1-phenylisopropyladenosine (10(-6) M) and cyclohexyladenosine (10(-6) M) depressed both electrical and neurochemical responses to stimulation of the stratum radiatum. 8-Phenyltheophylline (5 X 10(-6) M) increased the release of aspartate and glutamate and antagonized the cyclohexyladenosine-induced inhibition of amino acid release. Our results support the hypothesis that adenosine modulates the electrophysiological responses to stimulation of stratum radiatum through a reduction of the release of the excitatory amino acids aspartate and glutamate.