The aim of the study was to investigate the divalent cation permeability of native alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazole-propionate (AMPA) receptors expressed in interneurons of the olfactory bulb. Kainic acid (KA) was used as agonist to activate AMPA-receptor-mediated currents, which were recorded with the use of the patch-clamp technique. In interneurons acutely isolated from the olfactory bulb, the current responses to KA showed linear/outwardly rectifying current-voltage (I-V) relationships with a positive average reversal potential of +7 mV in normal external medium (1 mM Ca2+, 1 mM Mg2+). Raising the external Ca2+ concentration to 10 mM suppressed the amplitude, whereas omission of Ca2+ enhanced the amplitude of the current. Spectral analysis of the increase in current variance produced by KA indicated that the decreased amplitude observed in 10 mM Ca2+ was accompanied by a reduction in the apparent single-channel conductance. Raising the concentration of Mg2+ from 1 to 10 mM had a weak depressant effect on the KA-evoked current amplitude. No shift in the reversal potential was observed when the concentration of Ca2+ or Mg2+ was changed from 1 to 10 mM. Increasing the external medium concentration of Ca2+ to 60 mM not only further depressed the amplitudes of the KA-evoked currents but also gave a pronounced leftward shift in the average reversal potential to -32 +/- 9 (SE) mV (N = 7). For neurons in primary culture, current responses to KA also showed linear/outwardly rectifying I-V relationships with a positive average reversal potential in normal external medium. Substituting N-methylglucamine for Na+ and increasing the Ca2+ concentration to 10 mM gave a leftward shift in the average reversal potential from +9 +/- 3 mV to -47 +/- 4 mV (N = 11) and caused a marked reduction in the amplitude of the KA-evoked currents at negative potentials. The permeability properties of the studied AMPA receptors were well predicted by the Eyring rate model (symmetrical, 2 barriers, 1 site). The model gave a pCa2+/pK+ permeability ratio of 0.06 for acutely isolated interneurons and 0.14 for interneurons in primary culture. The constant field theory, which failed to successfully reproduce all the experimental data, gave corresponding low permeability ratios of 0.18 and 0.40 for acutely isolated cells and cells in primary culture, respectively. Thus it is concluded that interneurons in the olfactory bulb mainly express AMPA receptors with low permeability to Ca2+ ions.