The activity and selectivity of the glutamate receptor antagonists belonging to the 2,3-benzodiazepine class of compounds have been examined at recombinant human non-NMDA glutamate receptors expressed in HEK293 cells and on native rat NMDA and non-NMDA receptors in vitro. The racemic 2,3-benzodiazepines GYKI52466, LY293606 (GYKI53405) and LY300168 (GYKI53655) inhibited AMPA (10 microM)-mediated responses in recombinant human GluR1 receptors expressed in HEK293 cells with approximate IC50 values of 18 microM, 24 microM and 6 microM, respectively and AMPA (10 microM) responses in recombinant human GluR4 expressing HEK293 cells with approximate IC50 values of 22 microM, 28 microM and 5 microM, respectively. GYKI 52466, LY293606 and LY300168 were non-competitive antagonists of AMPA receptor-mediated responses in acutely isolated rat cerebellar Purkinje neurons with approximate IC50 values of 10 microM, 8 microM and 1.5 microM, respectively. The activity of racemic compounds LY293606 and LY300168 was established to reside in the (-) isomer of each compound. At a concentration of 100 microM, GYKI52466, LY293606 and LY300168 produced < 30% inhibition of kainate-activated currents evoked in HEK293 cells expressing either human homomeric GluR5 or GluR6 receptors or heteromeric GluR6+KA2 kainate receptors. The activity of the 2,3-benzodiazepines at 100 microM was weak at kainate receptors, but was stereoselective. Similar levels of inhibition were observed for kainate-induced currents in dorsal root ganglion neurons. Intact tissue preparations were also used to examine the stereoselective actions of the 2,3-benzodiazepines. In the cortical wedge preparation, the active isomer of LY300168, LY303070, produced a non-competitive antagonism of AMPA-evoked depolarizations with smaller changes in depolarizations induced by kainate and no effect on NMDA-dependent depolarizations. LY303070 was also effective in preventing 30 microM AMPA-induced depolarizations in isolated spinal cord dorsal roots with an approximate IC50 value of 1 microM. Synaptic transmission in the hemisected spinal cord preparation was stereoselectively antagonized by the active isomers of LY300168 and LY293606. In summary, these results indicate that 2,3-benzodiazepines are potent, selective and stereospecific antagonists of the AMPA subtype of the non-NMDA glutamate receptor.