The effect of the two metal-ion chelators EDTA and citrate on the action of N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors was investigated by use of cultured mouse cerebellar granule neurons and Xenopus oocytes, respectively, to monitor either NMDA-evoked transmitter release or membrane currents. Transmitter release from the glutamatergic neurons was determined by superfusion of the cells after preloading with the glutamate analogue D-[3H]aspartate. The oocytes were injected with mRNA isolated from mouse cerebellum and, after incubation to allow translation to occur, currents mediated by NMDA were recorded electrophysiologically by voltage clamp at a holding potential of -80 mV. It was found that citrate as well as EDTA could attenuate the inhibitory action of Zn2+ on NMDA receptor-mediated transmitter release from the neurons and membrane currents in the oocytes. These effects were specifically related to the NMDA receptor, since the NMDA receptor antagonist MK-801 abolished the action and no effects of Zn2+ and its chelators were observed when kainate was used to selectively activate non-NMDA receptors. Since it was additionally demonstrated that citrate (and EDTA) preferentially chelated Zn2+ rather than Ca2+, the present findings strongly suggest that endogenous citrate released specifically from astrocytes into the extracellular space in the brain may function as a modulator of NMDA receptor activity. This is yet another example of astrocytic influence on neuronal activity.