The rostral portion of the nucleus of the solitary tract (NST) contains second-order gustatory neurons, sends projections to the parabrachial complex and brainstem reticular formation, and receives descending projections from several nuclei of the ascending gustatory pathway. Electrophysiological responses of NST neurons can be modulated by several factors, including blood glucose and insulin levels and taste aversion conditioning. We are using extracellular electrophysiological recording in vivo, combined with local microinjection of neurotransmitter agonists and antagonists, to study the mechanisms by which taste responses of cells in the hamster NST can be modulated. Afferent fibers of the chorda tympani (CT) nerve make excitatory synaptic contact with NST neurons; this excitation is probably mediated by the excitatory amino acid glutamate. Microinjection of kynurenic acid, a nonspecific glutamate receptor antagonist, into the NST completely and reversibly blocks afferent input from the CT nerve, produced by either anodal electrical or chemical stimulation of the anterior tongue. The non-NMDA ((RS)-alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPA)/kainate) receptor antagonist 6-cyano-7-nitroquinoxaline-2, 3-dione (CNQX) also completely blocks gustatory input to these cells, whereas the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) antagonist DL-2-amino-5-phosphonovalerate (APV) produces only a small effect. There are many gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)-containing neurons within the NST and taste-responsive NST cells are maintained under a tonic GABAergic inhibition. Microinjection of the GABAA receptor antagonist bicuculline methiodide increases the taste responsiveness of NST neurons, whereas application of GABA inhibits taste responses in these cells. Preliminary data show that GABAergic inhibition can be produced by stimulation of the gustatory cortex. There are both intrinsic substance P (SP)-containing neurons and extrinsic SP-immunoreactive fibers in the rostral NST. Microinjection of SP into the NST enhances the responses of many NST cells to gustatory stimulation; NaCl-best neurons are preferentially excited by SP.