Transient global or forebrain ischemia induced experimentally in animals can cause selective, delayed neuronal death of hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neurons. A striking feature is a delayed rise in intracellular free Zn(2+) in CA1 neurons just before the onset of histologically detectable cell death. Here we show that alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPA)-type glutamate receptors (AMPARs) at Schaffer collateral to CA1 synapses in postischemic hippocampus exhibit properties of Ca(2+)/Zn(2+)-permeable, Glu receptor 2 (GluR2)-lacking AMPARs before the rise in Zn(2+) and cell death. At 42 h after ischemia, AMPA excitatory postsynaptic currents exhibited pronounced inward rectification and marked sensitivity to 1-naphthyl acetyl spermine (Naspm), a selective channel blocker of GluR2-lacking AMPARs. In control hippocampus, AMPA excitatory postsynaptic currents were electrically linear and relatively insensitive to Naspm. Naspm injected intrahippocampally at 9-40 h after insult greatly reduced the late rise in intracellular free Zn(2+) in postischemic CA1 neurons and afforded partial protection against ischemia-induced cell death. These results implicate GluR2-lacking AMPA receptors in the ischemia-induced rise in free Zn(2+) and death of CA1 neurons, although a direct action at the time of the rise in Zn(2+) is unproven. This receptor subtype appears to be an important therapeutic target for intervention in ischemia-induced neuronal death in humans.