Ca2+ influx through glutamate receptors (GluRs) is thought to play a crucial part in developmental processes and neuronal plasticity. Here we have examined the spatiotemporal distribution of Ca2+-permeable GluRs in auditory brainstem neurons of the rat from birth to adulthood, using the cobalt-staining technique of Pruss and collaborators. In slices of young adult rats, 1 mm glutamate evoked intense cobalt uptake in subsets of neurons in the ventral cochlear nuclei, the medial nucleus of the trapezoid body, the lateral and the medial superior olive, and the lateral lemniscal nuclei. Neurones in the central nucleus of the inferior colliculus, and thalamic auditory nuclei appear to express few, if any, Ca2+-permeable GluRs. Thus, in adults, Ca2+-permeable GluRs are present in neurons of almost all main relay stations of the auditory brainstem. During development, cobalt-stained cells first appeared at about hearing onset (at postnatal day 12 [P12]). At P16, staining levels were highest and the pattern of distribution was already adult-like. The staining intensity slightly declined during the fourth postnatal week. In contrast, Ca2+-permeable receptors were detected in the external cortex of the inferior colliculus as early as P4. Our results show that auditory neurons, characterized by a high temporal precision in neuronal activity, display Ca2+-permeable GluRs. Because Ca2+ permeability appears at about the onset of hearing and is highest during the following 2 weeks, Ca2+ influx through GluRs is likely to be implicated in remodelling processes occurring during this ontogenetic period.