The retinal bipolar cell receiving glutamate transmission from photoreceptors mediates a key process in segregating visual signals into ON center and OFF center pathways. This transmission involves a G protein-coupled metabotropic glutamate receptor (mGluR). Immunocytochemical and immunoelectron microscopic studies indicate that restricted localization of a specific mGluR subtype, mGluR6, at the postsynaptic site of the rat rod bipolar cell. This specialization is developmentally regulated: mGluR6 is initially distributed in both the soma and dendrites and is finally concentrated on the postsynaptic site. The mGluR6 localization is reversed when photoreceptors degenerate in the mutant rat with retinal dystrophy. Evidence is thus presented indicating specialized, developmentally regulated receptor distribution in the central nervous system and the crucial role of mGluR6 in photoreceptor-bipolar cell synaptic transmission.