In visual neurones of the superficial layers of the superior colliculus (SSC), repetitive stimulation causes a progressive decline in the size of the response to the stimulus, usually known as response habituation or response adaptation. A mechanism has been proposed in which habituation results from coactivation of excitatory and inhibitory neurones, and the responses of the inhibitory neurones block the response to subsequent stimulus presentations. Excitatory amino acid (EAA) neurotransmitters mediate visual responses via NMDA and non-NMDA receptors in cat SSC. We have investigated the role of these receptors in the generation of response habituation. Following the iontophoretic application of the EAA antagonists CNQX, AP5 or CPP, repetitive visual stimulation paradigms which normally produce response habituation no longer do so. Indeed the response to each presentation of the stimulus is similar. Intravenous administration of the dissociative anesthetic ketamine (2-10 mg/kg) had similar actions to iontophoretically applied NMDA antagonists. The data imply that intracollicular mechanisms activated by NMDA and non-NMDA receptors contribute to the generation of the inhibitory responses in SCC which lead to response habituation. Furthermore, the effects seen with ketamine anesthesia suggest that the use of ketamine in studies of sensory systems may result in the lack of habituation.