Excitatory amino acids, such as glutamate, constitute a major transmitter system in the control of hypothalamic-pituitary secretion. Different subtypes of glutamate receptors, such as NMDA (N-methyl-d-aspartic acid) and KA (kainate) receptors, are involved in the control of anterior pituitary secretion. Other receptor subtypes, such as AMPA (activated by alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methylisoxazole-4-propionic acid) and metabotropic receptors, have been identified, although their role in the control of neuroendocrine function remains largely unknown. Recent reports have demonstrated the involvement of AMPA receptors in the control of the steroid-induced luteinizing hormone (LH) surge in female and growth hormone (GH) secretion in male rats. The aim of this study was to assess the potential role of AMPA receptors in the control of GH, prolactin (PRL), LH and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) secretion in prepubertal 23-day-old rats. To this end, prepubertal female rats were injected with AMPA (2.5 or 5 mg/kg i.p.) or the antagonist of AMPA receptors 1,2,3,4-tetrahydro-6-nitro-2, 3-dioxo-benzo (f) quinoxaline-7-sulfonamide (NBQX; 0.25 or 0.50 mg/kg i.p.). Serum LH and FSH concentrations and hypothalamic LH-releasing hormone (LHRH) content remained unchanged after AMPA or NBQX administration. In contrast, serum PRL levels significantly decreased 15, 30 and 60 min after i.p. administration of AMPA and increased 120 min after NBQX treatment, whereas serum GH levels increased after AMPA treatment and decreased after NBQX administration. Considering that AMPA has been shown to activate a subset of kainate receptors, its effects were compared with those elicited by 2.5 mg/kg KA in prepubertal female rats. At this age, however, KA was unable to reproduce the effects of AMPA on PRL and GH secretion, thus suggesting that the actions observed after AMPA administration were carried out specifically through AMPA receptors. In addition, as the effects of AMPA on LH secretion in adult females have been proved to be steroid-dependent, the effects of AMPA (2.5 mg/kg) and NBQX (0.5 mg/kg) were tested in prepubertal animals with different gonadal backgrounds, i.e. intact males, and intact and ovariectomized (OVX) females. The effects of AMPA in prepubertal females appeared to be modulated by ovarian secretion, as the inhibition of PRL secretion disappeared and LH secretion was partially suppressed by AMPA in OVX animals whereas the stimulatory effect on GH release was enhanced by ovariectomy. Furthermore, in male rats, AMPA administration significantly decreased PRL secretion and increased serum GH levels, the amplitude of the GH response being higher than in prepubertal females. To ascertain the pituitary component for the reported actions of AMPA, hemi-pituitaries of male rats were incubated in the presence of AMPA (10(-8)-10(-6) M). The results obtained showed no effect of AMPA on PRL, GH and gonadotropin secretion in vitro. Finally, we investigated the involvement of the dopaminergic (DA) system in the inhibitory action of AMPA on PRL secretion. Pre-treatment of prepubertal female rats with a dopamine receptor antagonist (domperidone: 1 mg/kg) resulted in the blockage of AMPA-mediated inhibition of PRL secretion, thus suggesting that this action is probably mediated by an increase in DA activity. In conclusion, we provide evidence for the physiological role of AMPA receptors in the control of PRL and GH secretion in prepubertal rats. In contrast, our data cast doubts on the involvement of AMPA receptors in the regulation of gonadotropin secretion at this age. The effects of AMPA reported herein were not mediated through activation of kainate receptors and were probably exerted at the hypothalamic or suprahypothalamic levels. In addition, we show that ovarian secretion actively modulates the effects of AMPA receptor activation on anterior pituitary secretion in prepubertal female rats.