The distribution of glutamate receptor subunit/subtypes in the vertebrate retina was investigated by immunocytochemistry using anti-peptide antibodies against AMPA (GluR1-4), kainate (GluR6/7) and metabotropic (mGluR1 alpha) receptors. All receptor subtypes examined are present in the mammalian retina, but they are distributed differentially. GluR1 is present in the inner plexiform layer as well as amacrine and ganglion cell bodies. GluR2 is present mainly in the outer plexiform layer and bipolar cells. An anti-GluR2/3 antibody labels both plexiform layers and various cell bodies in the inner nuclear layer and the ganglion cell layer. GluR4 is present on Müller glial cells. In the goldfish retina, GluR2 immunoreactivity is prominent in the Mb type of ON-bipolar cells, including the dendrites and the large synaptic terminal. The putative dendritic localization is surprising, because no depolarizing conductance increase induced by glutamate is thought to be present in these cells. An AMPA receptor at a presynaptic terminal is also unusual, and probably provides feedback control of glutamate release. GluR6/7 is most widespread in the retina, being present in horizontal, bipolar, amacrine and ganglion cells. Ion channels composed of GluR6 are now known to be phosphorylated by protein kinase A, resulting in current potentiation. This property and our present observation together suggest that the glutamate receptors previously studied electrophysiologically by others in horizontal cells may contain GluR6. mGluR1 alpha is found mostly in the inner plexiform layer; its localization partially overlaps with that of the inositol trisphosphate receptor in the retina. Our results suggest that, in the retina, glutamate receptor subtypes may be expressed in selective cell types according to their specific functions.