Background A complete explanation of the mechanisms by which Pb2+ exerts toxic effects on developmental central nervous system remains unknown. Glutamate is critical to the developing brain through various subtypes of ionotropic or metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs). Ionotropic N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors have been considered as a principal target in lead-induced neurotoxicity. The relationship between mGluR3/mGluR7 and synaptic plasticity had been verified by many recent studies. The present study aimed to examine the role of mGluR3/mGluR7 in lead-induced neurotoxicity. Methods Twenty-four adult and female rats were randomly selected and placed on control or 0.2% lead acetate during gestation and lactation. Blood lead and hippocampal lead levels of pups were analyzed at weaning to evaluate the actual lead content at the end of the exposure. Impairments of short -term memory and long-term memory of pups were assessed by tests using Morris water maze and by detection of hippocampal ultrastructural alterations on electron microscopy. The impact of lead exposure on mGluR3 and mGluR7 mRNA expression in hippocampal tissue of pups were investigated by quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction and its potential role in lead neurotoxicity were discussed. Results Lead levels of blood and hippocampi in the lead-exposed rats were significantly higher than those in the controls (P < 0.001). In tests using Morris Water Maze, the overall decrease in goal latency and swimming distance was taken to indicate that controls had shorter latencies and distance than lead-exposed rats (P = 0.001 and P < 0.001 by repeated-measures analysis of variance). On transmission electron microscopy neuronal ultrastructural alterations were observed and the results of real-time polymerase chain reaction showed that exposure to 0.2% lead acetate did not substantially change gene expression of mGluR3 and mGluR7 mRNA compared with controls. Conclusion Exposure to lead before and after birth can damage short-term and long-term memory ability of young rats and hippocampal ultrastructure. However, the current study does not provide evidence that the expression of rat hippocampal mGluR3 and mGluR7 can be altered by systemic administration of lead during gestation and lactation, which are informative for the field of lead-induced developmental neurotoxicity noting that it seems not to be worthwhile to include mGluR3 and mGluR7 in future studies.