Intracellular and whole-cell patch-clamp recordings were obtained from sympathetic preganglionic neurons in rat spinal cord slices. Perfusion of selective ionotropic and metabotropic excitatory amino acid agonists induced depolarizing responses in all neurons. In approximately 20% of neurons the application of these agonists also evoked inhibitory postsynaptic potentials. The application of the ionotropic receptor antagonist 6-cyano-7-nitroquinoxaline-2,3-dione (5-40 μM) blocked the inhibitory postsynaptic potential discharges induced by (S)-α/^uamino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (0.5-50μM) and N-methyl-d-aspartate (0.5-50μM), but failed to block the inhibitory postsynaptic potentials induced by quisqualate (0.5-50μM) and (1S,3R)-l-aminocyclopentane-1,3-dicarboxylic acid (10-200μM). Similar inhibitory postsynaptic potentials were seen to occur spontaneously or could be evoked by electrical stimulation of the dorsal horn. The application of tetrodotoxin blocked the spontaneous and evoked inhibitory postsynaptic potential, indicating that they result from activity-dependent release of neurotransmitter. Strychnine antagonized all inhibitory postsynaptic potentials suggesting that they were mediated via glycine receptors. The reversal potential of the inhibitory postsynaptic potentials was -65 mV for intracellular and -55 mV for whole-cell recordings. This latter value is close to the reversal potential for chloride, suggesting that the inhibitory postsynaptic potentials were mediated by a chloride conductance. Perfusion of glycine (0.1-1 mM) induced inhibitory hyperpolarizing responses in the majority of neurons. This hyperpolarizing response was associated with a reduction in neuronal input resistance, persisted in the presence of tetrodotoxin, was blocked by strychnine and reversed at -55mV. In some neurons, glycine induced a membrane depolarization and increased the rate of spontaneous action potential firing. This excitatory effect of glycine was blocked by tetrodotoxin, showed voltage dependency and was less sensitive to strychnine than the glycine-induced inhibitory response. We conclude from these data that spinal interneurons which synapse with sympathetic preganglionic neurons can be activated through multiple subtypes of excitatory amino acid receptor, including both ionotropic and metabotropic receptors. These interneurons release glycine to evoke inhibitory postsynaptic potentials which are mediated via a strychnine-sensitive glycine receptor coupled to a chloride conductance.