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Small volumes of N-Methyl-D-Aspartate (NMDA) and non-NMDA excitatory amino acid receptor agonists were applied to localized regions of the dendritic trees of lamprey spinal neurons along their medial-lateral axis to obtain a spatial map of glutamate receptor distribution. Voltage clamp and frequency domain methods were used to obtain quantitative kinetic data of the voltage dependent ionic channels located both on the soma and on highly branched dendritic membranes. Pressure pulses of NMDA applied to the most peripheral regions of the dendritic tree elicited large somatic impedance increases, indicating that the most peripheral dendrites are well supplied with NMDA receptors. Experiments done with kainate did not elicit somatic responses to agonist applications on peripheral dendrites. The data obtained are consistent with the hypothesis that the activation of NMDA receptors by exogenous glutamate is significantly modified by the simultaneous activation of non-NMDA receptors, which shunts the NMDA response. The non-NMDA shunting hypothesis was tested by a combined application of kainate and NMDA to mimic the action of glutamate showing that the shunting effect of non-NMDA receptor activation virtually abolished the marked voltage dependency typical of NMDA receptor activation. These data were interpreted with a compartmental neuronal model having both NMDA and non-NMDA receptors.