Oligonucleotides of consensus sequences from rat metabotropic glutamate receptor (mGluR) genes were synthesized and used to amplify human DNA by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Five unique human sequences homologous to these rat receptor genes were isolated including mGluR4. A human cerebellum cDNA library was screened using this amplified mGluR4 sequence as a probe and yielded clones which between them contained the complete coding sequence for human mGluR4. The coding sequence is very similar to the equivalent rat gene (90% DNA sequence identity and 97% predicted protein sequence identity). The mGluR4 cDNA was transfected in Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells and stable clonal cell lines were isolated. Stimulation of the expressed receptor by L-2-amino-4-phosphonobutyrate (L-AP4), L-glutamate or (1S,3R)-1-aminocyclopentane-1,3-dicarboxylic acid (1S,3R-ACPD) resulted in a reduction of forskolin-stimulated cyclic AMP (cAMP) with EC50 values of 0.2, 13 and 90 microM respectively. Quisqualate had little effect at concentrations up to 1 mM. In Northern blots mGluR4 mRNA appears to be brain-specific, and shows a distinct distribution (excluding the cerebellum), being expressed in the thalamus, hypothalamus and caudate nucleus. In situ hybridization studies on human brain sections confirmed this general pattern of distribution. The strongest mGluR4 mRNA signal was found in the cerebellar granule cells consistent with the reported distribution of mGluR4 in the rat brain. The major difference from the rat brain is the presence in the human brain of mGluR4 mRNA in the caudate nucleus and putamen.