1. Whole-cell patch clamp recordings were made from rat ventromedial hypothalamic neurones in slices of brain tissue in vitro. Bath application of 50 microM (1S,3R)-1-aminocyclopentane-1,3-dicarboxylic acid (1S,3R-ACPD) depolarized all neurones tested by activation of an inward current of approximately 55 pA at -60 mV. 2. The inward current elicited by 1S,3R-ACPD was unaffected by K+ channel blockade with external Cs+, Ba2+ or TEA. However, the current was significantly reduced by replacement of the external NaCl with either Tris-HCl or LiCl. 3. The 1S,3R-ACPD-induced current was reduced by the heavy metal ions Ni2+ or La3+ and also by the Na(+)-Ca2+ exchange current inhibitor 3',4'-dichlorobenzamil. 4. The effects of 1S,3R-ACPD were mimicked by the group I metabotropic agonist 3,5-dihydroxyphenylglycine (DHPG) but not by the group III selective agonist, L-2-amino-4-phosphonobutanoate (L-AP4). Furthermore, the effects of 1S,3R-ACPD were inhibited by the metabotropic antagonists alpha-methyl-4-carboxyphenylglycine (MCPG) and 1-aminoindan-1,5-dicarboxylic acid (AIDA) but not by the presynaptic metabotropic receptor antagonists alpha-methyl-4-phosphonophenylglycine (MPPG) or alpha-methyl-4-tetrazolylphenylglycine (MTPG). 5. Photorelease of caged GDP beta S inside neurones irreversibly blocked the 1S,3R-ACPD-induced current whilst photolysis of caged GTP gamma S inside neurones irreversibly potentiated this current. 6. The PLC inhibitor U-73,122 significantly reduced the size of the inward current induced by 1S,3R-ACPD. This effect was not mimicked by the inactive analogue U-73,343. 7. Flash photolysis of the caged calcium chelator diazo-2 inside neurones diminished the response to 1S,3R-ACPD. 8. It is concluded that group I metabotropic glutamate receptors depolarize neurones in the VMH by activation of a Na(+)-Ca2+ exchange current through a G-protein coupled increase in intracellular Ca2+.