The functional effects of phenylglycine analogs on metabotropic glutamate receptor (mGluR) subtypes mGluR1 alpha, mGluR2 and mGluR4 were examined. (S)-4-Carboxyphenylglycine (IC50 = 65 +/- 5 microM), (R,S)-alpha-methyl-4-carboxyphenylglycine (IC50 = 155 +/- 38 microM) and (S)-3-carboxy-4-hydroxyphenylglycine (IC50 = 290 +/- 47 microM) competitively antagonized glutamate-stimulated phosphoinositide hydrolysis in baby hamster kidney (BHK) cells stably expressing mGluR1 alpha. (S)-4-Carboxyphenylglycine and (R,S)-alpha-methyl-4-carboxyphenylglycine competitively antagonized glutamate-induced inhibition of forskolin-stimulated cAMP-formation in BHK cells stably expressing mGluR2 with IC50 values of 577 +/- 74 microM and 340 +/- 59 microM, respectively. (R,S)-4-carboxy-3-hydroxyphenylglycine, (R)-3-hydroxyphenylglycine and (S)-3-carboxy-4-hydroxyphenylglycine were agonists at mGluR2 with EC50 values of 48 +/- 5 microM, 451 +/- 93 and 97 +/- 12 microM, respectively. In parallel experiments, no activities of these phenylglycine analogs at mGluR4 were observed. The present report demonstrates that phenylglycine analogs possess differential functional activities at subtypes of the mGluR family.