1. The activation of G proteins by type 1alpha metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) in membranes from recombinant baby hamster kidney cells expressing the cloned rat mGluR1alpha receptor has been studied by use of a [35S]-guanosine 5'-[gamma-thio]triphosphate ([35S]-GTPgammaS) binding assay. 2. L-Glutamate increased the rate of [35S]-GTPgammaS binding in a concentration-dependent manner (-logEC50 (M) 5.25 +/- 0.07), with an optimal (62.4 +/- 1.6%) increase over basal binding being observed following 60 min incubation at 30 degrees C with 70 pM [35S]-GTPgammaS, 1 microM GDP, 10 mM MgCl2, 100 mM NaCl and 100 microg membrane protein ml(-1). The L-glutamate (100 microM)-stimulated increase in [35S]-GTPgammaS binding was totally prevented in the presence of the group I mGluR antagonist (S)-4-carboxy-3-hydroxyphenylglycine (300 microM). 3. Quantitative analysis of the affinity and number of G proteins activated by a maximally effective concentration of L-glutamate revealed an equilibrium dissociation constant (K(D)) for [35S]-GTPgammaS binding of 0.76 +/- 0.20 nM and a maximal number of GTPgammaS-liganded G proteins (Bmax) of 361 +/- 30 fmol mg(-1) protein. 4. Metabotropic glutamate receptor agonists, quisqualate (-logEC50 (M) 6.74 +/- 0.06), 1S,3R-ACPD (4.64 +/- 0.08) and (S)-3,5-dihydroxyphenylglycine (5.16 +/- 0.23) also increased [35S]-GTPgammaS binding in a concentration-dependent manner, with the latter two agents behaving as partial agonists. 5. (+)-alpha-Methylcarboxyphenylglycine (300 microM) caused a parallel rightward shift of the L-glutamate concentration-effect curve for [35S]-GTPgammaS binding, allowing an antagonist equilibrium dissociation constant (K(D)) of 34.0 +/- 7.8 microM to be calculated for this mGluR antagonist. 6. Pretreatment of BHK-mGluR1alpha cells with a concentration of pertussis toxin (PTX) shown to be maximally effective (100 ng ml(-1), 24 h) before membrane preparation resulted in a marked decrease in agonist-stimulated [35S]-GTPgammaS binding (by 66.0 +/- 0.9%), and an altered concentration-effect relationship for agonist-stimulated [35S]-GTPgammaS binding by the residual PTX-insensitive G-protein population. 7. The modulation of [35S]-GTPgammaS binding by agonists and antagonists in membranes from recombinant cells provides an excellent system in which to study mGluR interactions with PTX-sensitive and -insensitive G proteins.