The chemokine RANTES is critically involved in neuroinflammation and has been implicated in the pathophysiology of multiple sclerosis. We examined the possibility that activation of G-protein-coupled metabotropic glutamate (mGlu) receptors regulates the formation of RANTES in glial cells. A 15 hr exposure of cultured astrocytes to tumor necrosis factor-alpha and interferon-gamma induced a substantial increase in both RANTES mRNA and extracellular RANTES levels. These increases were markedly reduced when astrocytes were coincubated with l-2-amino-4-phosphonobutanoate (l-AP-4), 4-phosphonophenylglycine, or l-serine-O-phosphate, which selectively activate group III mGlu receptor subtypes (i.e., mGlu4, -6, -7, and -8 receptors). Agonists of mGlu1/5 or mGlu2/3 receptors were virtually inactive. Inhibition of RANTES release produced by l-AP-4 was attenuated by the selective group III mGlu receptor antagonist (R,S)-alpha-methylserine-O-phosphate or by pretreatment of the cultures with pertussis toxin. Cultured astrocytes expressed mGlu4 receptors, and the ability of l-AP-4 to inhibit RANTES release was markedly reduced in cultures prepared from mGlu4 knock-out mice. This suggests that activation of mGlu4 receptors negatively modulates the production of RANTES in glial cells. We also examined the effect of l-AP-4 on the development of experimental allergic encephalomyelitis (EAE) in Lewis rats. l-AP-4 was subcutaneously infused for 28 d by an osmotic minipump that released 250 nl/hr of a solution of 250 mm of the drug. Detectable levels of l-AP-4 ( approximately 100 nm) were found in the brain dialysate of EAE rats. Infusion of l-AP-4 did not affect the time at onset and the severity of neurological symptoms but significantly increased the rate of recovery from EAE. In addition, lower levels of RANTES mRNA were found in the cerebellum and spinal cord of EAE rats infused with l-AP-4. These results suggest that pharmacological activation of group III mGlu receptors may be useful in the experimental treatment of neuroinflammatory CNS disorders.