Neurons containing multiple excitatory inputs may sort and target glutamate receptor subtypes to subsets of synapses. A good model for testing this hypothesis is the Purkinje cell, which expresses significant levels of alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionate, kainate, N-methyl-D-aspartate, delta-, and metabotropic glutamate receptors. Purkinje cells receive two excitatory inputs, the parallel and climbing fibers; the combined effect of stimulation of these two inputs is to produce long-term depression of parallel fiber/Purkinje cell neurotransmission. Distribution of glutamate receptors in these two synapse populations in rat cerebella was studied using preembedding immunocytochemistry with antibodies to GluR1, GluR2/3, GluR5-7, NR1, delta 1/2, and mGluR1 alpha. Moderate/dense postsynaptic staining was most frequent in postsynaptic densities and spines of both parallel and climbing fiber synapses with mGluR1 alpha antibody, was intermediate in frequency with GluR2/3 and GluR5-7 antibodies, and was least frequent with GluR1 and NR1 antibodies. The most striking finding was the absence of significant postsynaptic staining with delta 1/2 antibody in climbing fiber synapses in adult animals, even though postsynaptic staining was prevalent in parallel fiber synapses with this antibody. In contrast to adults, moderate/dense postsynaptic immunolabeling of climbing fiber synapses with delta 1/2 antibody was common in rats at 10 days postnatal. This study provides direct morphological evidence that delta-glutamate receptors are differentially targeted to synapse populations. Our results support previous suggestions that delta 2 is involved in development of parallel and climbing fiber synapses and in long-term depression of parallel fiber/Purkinje synaptic responses in adults.