The essential amino acid L-proline produces a depressor response when microinjected into the caudal ventrolateral medulla (CVLM) of anesthetized rats. L-proline may activate some excitatory amino acid (EAA) receptors. The present study tested this hypothesis by investigating the effects of two ionotropic excitatory amino acid receptor antagonists on the depressor response to L-proline in the CVLM: the alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazole propionic acid (AMPA)/kainate receptor-selective antagonist 6-cyano-7-nitroquinoxaline-2,3-dione (CNQX) and the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor-selective antagonist MK801. Urethane-anesthetized rats received arterial catheters and their ventrolateral medulla surface was exposed. Injections of the antagonists CNQX and MK801 (2 mM, 68 nl in each case) into the CVLM completely blocked depressor responses to subsequent administration of AMPA (2 pmol/34 nl) and NMDA (2 pmol/34 nl), respectively. The depressor response to L-proline (3.4 nmol/34 nl) was strongly inhibited by prior injection of CNQX (2 mM, 68 nl) and significantly attenuated by prior injection of a high dose (20 mM, 68 nl), but not a low dose (2 mM, 68 nl), of MK801. The results indicate that the depressor response to L-proline in the CVLM includes mechanisms of ionotropic excitatory amino acid receptors.