Glutamate receptors that function as ligand-gated ion channels are essential components of cell-cell communication in the nervous system. Despite a wealth of information concerning these receptors, details of their structure are just beginning to emerge. We propose that glutamate receptors comprise four modules: two modules that are related to bacterial periplasmic-binding proteins, one module that is related to the pore-forming region of K+ channels, and one regulatory module of unknown origin. A K(+)-channel-like domain inserted into a crucial region of a periplasmic-binding protein-like domain suggests a mechanism for transduction of binding energy to channel opening. This modular design also suggests an evolutionary link between a ligand-gated ion-channel family and voltage-gated ion channels.