1. The primary afferent neurons (dorsal cells) are of two types in lamprey, which are fast (touch) and slowly adapting (pressure), respectively. Intracellular stimulation of such sensory neurons evokes mono- and polysynaptic excitatory postsynaptic potentials (EPSPs) in spinobulbar neurons (giant interneurons) and in unidentified interneurons. Paired intracellular recordings between identified sensory cells and spinobulbar neurons made it possible to study the synaptic transmission in detail. It is shown that both touch and pressure primary afferents utilize excitatory amino acid (EAA) transmission and, furthermore, that these effects are subject to a presynaptic GABAB receptor modulation. 2. The monosynaptic mixed electrical and chemical EPSPs in giant interneurons had a mean peak amplitude of 3.2 +/- 1.3 (SD) mV, a time to peak of 4.7 +/- 1.2 ms, and a duration at one-half peak amplitude of 9.4 +/- 3.2 ms. Corresponding results were obtained with dorsal root or dorsal column stimulation. Seventy percent of the fast-adapting dorsal cells of the "touch" type evoked monosynaptic mixed EPSPs in giant interneurons, whereas only 3% of the slowly adapting "pressure" dorsal cells did. 3. The chemical part of the monosynaptic EPSPs evoked in giant interneurons was, in all cases tested, blocked by application of EAA antagonists, like the nonselective antagonist kynurenic acid (KYAC; 2 mM). The selective kainate/alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPA) receptor antagonist 6-cyano-7-nitroquinoxaline-2,3-dione (CNQX; 5 microM) had a similar effect, whereas the selective N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist 2-aminophosphono-5-valeric acid (AP-5; 200-400 microM) did not change the EPSP, even in the absence of magnesium ions. 4. The monosynaptic excitatory synaptic transmission was modulated by application of the selective GABAB receptor agonist L-baclofen (5-10 mM local droplet application or 100-1,000 microM bath applied) or by gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA; 100-1,000 microM), also when GABAA receptor-evoked effects were blocked by bicuculline (10 microM). L-baclofen or GABA in combination with bicuculline did not evoke any effects in the postsynaptic neuron on membrane potential, input resistance, or spike threshold. Therefore the effects of the GABAB receptor activation most likely occurs at the presynaptic afferent level. 5. In conclusion, the monosynaptic excitation from skin mechanoreceptors evoked in spinobulbar neurons is mediated by EAA receptors of the kainate/AMPA type. GABAB receptor activation causes a depression of this EPSP, most likely because of a presynaptic action. GABA interneurons are known to form close appositions on sensory axons in the lamprey.