Although some physiological functions of kainate receptors (KARs) still remain unclear, recent advances have highlighted a role in synaptic physiology. In hippocampal slices, kainate depresses GABA-mediated synaptic inhibition and increases the firing rate of interneurons. However, the sensitivity to agonists of these responses differs, suggesting that the presynaptic and somatic KARs have a distinct molecular composition. Hippocampal interneurons express several distinct KAR subunits that can assemble into heteromeric receptors with a variety of pharmacological properties and that, in principle, could fulfill different roles. To address which receptor types mediate each of the effects of kainate in interneurons, we used new compounds and mice deficient for specific KAR subunits. In a recombinant assay, 5-carboxyl-2,4-di-benzamido-benzoic acid (NS3763) acted exclusively on homomeric glutamate receptor subunit 5 (GluR5), whereas 3S,4aR,6S,8aR-6-((4-carboxyphenyl)methyl) 1,2,3,4,4a,5,6,7,8,8a-decahydroisoquinoline-3-carboxylic acid (LY382884) antagonized homomeric GluR5 and any heteromeric combination containing GluR5 subunits. In hippocampal slices, LY382884, but not NS3763, was able to prevent kainate-induced depression of evoked IPSC. In contrast, neither prevented the concomitant increase in spontaneous IPSC frequency. The selectivity of these compounds was seen additionally in knock-out mice, such that they were inactive in GluR5-/- mice but completely effective in GluR6-/- mice. Our data indicate that in wild-type mice, CA1 interneurons express heteromeric GluR6 -KA2 receptors in their somatic compartments and GluR5-GluR6 or GluR5-KA2 at presynaptic terminals. However, functional compensation appears to take place in the null mutants, a new pharmacological profile emerging more compatible with the activity of homomeric receptors in both compartments GluR5 in GluR6-/- mice and GluR6 in GluR5-/- mice.