The substantia nigra pars reticulata is a primary output nucleus of the basal ganglia motor circuit and is controlled by a fine balance between excitatory and inhibitory inputs. The major excitatory input to GABAergic neurons in the substantia nigra arises from glutamatergic neurons in the subthalamic nucleus, whereas inhibitory inputs arise mainly from the striatum and the globus pallidus. Anatomical studies revealed that metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) are highly expressed throughout the basal ganglia. Interestingly, mRNA for group I mGluRs are abundant in neurons of the subthalamic nucleus and the substantia nigra pars reticulata. Thus, it is possible that group I mGluRs play a role in the modulation of glutamatergic synaptic transmission at excitatory subthalamonigral synapses. To test this hypothesis, we investigated the effects of group I mGluR activation on excitatory synaptic transmission in putative GABAergic neurons in the substantia nigra pars reticulata using the whole cell patch clamp recording approach in slices of rat midbrain. We report that activation of group I mGluRs by the selective agonist (R,S)-3,5-dihydroxyphenylglycine (100 microM) decreases synaptic transmission at excitatory synapses in the substantia nigra pars reticulata. This effect is selectively mediated by presynaptic activation of the group I mGluR subtype, mGluR1. Consistent with these data, electron microscopic immunocytochemical studies demonstrate the localization of mGluR1a at presynaptic sites in the rat substantia nigra pars reticulata. From this finding that group I mGluRs modulate the major excitatory inputs to GABAergic neurons in the substantia nigra pars reticulata we suggest that these receptors may play an important role in basal ganglia functions. Studying this effect, therefore, provides new insights into the modulatory role of glutamate in basal ganglia output nuclei in physiological and pathophysiological conditions.