Activation of metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) with 1-aminocyclopentane-1S,3R-dicarboxylic acid 20 min prior to tetanus facilitates, or "primes," subsequent induction of long-term potentiation (LTP; Cohen and Abraham, J Neurophysiol 1996;76:953-962). In the present study, we investigated the receptor specificity and associated second messenger pathways involved in the mGluR priming effect by using field potentials recorded from area CA1 of rat hippocampal slices. In controls, mild theta-burst or high-frequency (100 Hz) stimulation induced 16% and 21% LTP, respectively. A 10-min application of the group I mGluR agonist 3,5-dihydroxyphenylglycine (DHPG) caused a transient depression of synaptic responses but a significant enhancement of subsequent LTP for both tetanus protocols (45% and 41% LTP, respectively). Maximal LTP, induced by stronger tetanization protocols, was not enhanced by DHPG, nor was mild LTP facilitated by post-tetanic application of DHPG. Priming with agonists selective for group II or III mGluRs had no effect on LTP. The mGluR antagonists L-2-amino-3-phosphonopropionic acid and 1-aminoindan-1,5-dicarboxylic acid inhibited the LTP facilitatory effect of DHPG but not the transient response depression, whereas alpha-methyl-4-carboxyphenylglycine produced the opposite effects. Priming with N-methyl-D-aspartate or alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid did not facilitate LTP induction. Prior activation of muscarinic acetylcholine receptors produced at best a weak priming effect. Inhibition of phospholipase C by U-73122 completely abolished the priming of LTP by DHPG. We conclude that mGluR priming of LTP results from biochemical cascades triggered by activation of phospholipase C coupled to group I mGluRs.