L- and D-aspartic acids (L-Asp and D-Asp) are present in the majority of nervous systems. In phylogeny, significant levels have been reported in mollusc brains, particularly cephalopods. To examine the role of L- and D-Asp on a cephalopod receptor, we studied ligand gating of a squid glutamate receptor (SqGluR) expressed in HEK 239 (human embryonic kidney) cells. Under voltage clamp, application of L-glutamate (L-Glu; 1-30 mM), but not D-glutamate (D-Glu), or L- or D-Asp, evoked an inward current of 0.1 nA. L- or D-Asp (200 mu M) applied with 20 mM L-Glu, slowed the time course of activation and inactivation of the L-Glu gated current (time constant increased from 1s (L-Glu alone) to 3 s (D-Asp and L-Glu) and to 19 s (L-Asp and L-Glu)). Our results suggest that in molluscan systems, aspartic acid could act as a neuromodulator during glutamatergic transmission and could significantly alter synaptic integration by slowing glutamate receptor gating.