To study the role of glutamate uptake at central glutamatergic synapses, we used the uptake blocker L-transpyrrolidine-2,4-dicarboxylate (PDC). The effects of PDC on the glutamate uptake current in salamander retinal glia indicated that PDC competes with glutamate for transport on the uptake carrier and that 300 microM PDC should significantly reduce the uptake of glutamate during the synaptic current. In isolated rat hippocampal neurons, 300 microM PDC did not affect non-N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor currents, but reduced NMDA receptor currents by 30%. In hippocampal and cerebellar slices, whereas 300 microM PDC reduced the NMDA component of excitatory synaptic currents by 50%, it reduced the non-NMDA component only slightly with no change in its decay time constant. Thus, the decay rate of the non-NMDA component is not set by the rate of glutamate uptake from the synaptic cleft into the presynaptic terminal.