Glutamate-induced glutamate release may be involved in the delayed neuronal death induced by N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA). In order to examine a possible modulatory effect of the presynaptic group III mGluRs on glutamate excitotoxicity, the effect of l-2-amino-4-phosphonobutyrate (L-AP4) was examined on NMDA-induced delayed death of mouse cerebellar granule neurons in culture. We found that L-AP4, at high concentration (in the millimolar range), inhibited in a non-competitive manner the NMDA-induced toxicity. This effect was mimicked by high concentration of l-serine-o-phosphate (L-SOP), and was inhibited by pertussis toxin (PTX) indicating the involvement of a Gi/o protein. This suggests the involvement of mGluR7 in the L-AP4 effect, and this was consistent with the detection of both mGluR7 protein and mRNA in these cultured neurons. To examine the mechanism of the L-AP4-induced protection from excitotoxic damage, the effect of L-AP4 on glutamate release was examined. L-AP4 (≥ 1 mm) non-competitively inhibited by more than 60% the glutamate release induced by NMDA during the insult. We also observed that the 10-min NMDA receptor stimulation resulted in a dramatic increase in the extracellular glutamate concentration reaching 6000% of the control value 24 h after the insult. This large increase was also inhibited when NMDA was applied in the presence of ≥ 1 mm L-AP4. Part of the L-AP4-induced protection from excitotoxic damage of granule neurons may therefore result from the inhibition of the vicious cycle: dying cells release glutamate, glutamate induced cell death. The present results add to the hypothesis that presynaptic mGluRs, probably mGluR7, may be the targets of drugs decreasing glutamate release and then neuronal death observed in some pathological situations.