The motor programme executed by the spinal cord to generate locomotion involves glutamate-mediated excitatory synaptic transmission. Using the neonatal rat spinal cord as an in vitro model in which the locomotor pattern was evoked by 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT), we investigated the role of N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) and non-NMDA glutamate receptors in the generation of locomotor patterns recorded electrophysiologically from pairs of ventral roots. In a control solution, 5-HT (2.5-30 microM) elicited persistent alternating activity in left and right lumbar ventral roots. Increasing 5-HT concentration within this range resulted in increased cycle frequency (on average from 8 to 20 cycles min-1). In the presence of NMDA receptor antagonism, persistent alternating activity was still observed as long as 5-HT doses were increased (range 20-40 microM), even if locomotor pattern frequency was lower than in the control solution. In the presence of non-NMDA receptor antagonism, stable locomotor activity (with lower cycle frequency) was also elicited by 5-HT, albeit with doses larger than in the control solution (15-40 microM). When NMDA and non-NMDA receptors were simultaneously blocked, 5-HT (5-120 microM) always failed to elicit locomotor activity. These data show that the operation of one glutamate receptor class was sufficient to express locomotor activity. As locomotor activity developed at a lower frequency than in the control solution after pharmacological block of either NMDA or non-NMDA receptors, it is suggested that both receptor classes were involved in locomotor pattern generation.