The permeability properties of kainate/AMPA receptors are determined by subunit composition. The GluR1 and GluR3 subunits form Ca(2+)-permeable channels and exhibit inward rectification; heteromeric receptors containing the GluR2 subunit are Ca(2+)-impermeable and electrically linear. These observations raise the possibility of a developmental 'switch' in which turning on or off of GluR2 expression regulates the level of Ca2+ permeable kainate/AMPA receptors. We examined the ratio of GluR1 and GluR3 to GluR2 gene expression in developing and adult rat brain by in situ hybridization. A larger value of this ratio is likely to be associated with greater Ca2+ permeability. Our data suggest that in neocortex, striatum and cerebellum the number of Ca(2+)-permeable kainate/AMPA receptors is high at P4 and declines monotonically with age. In hippocampus, the number increases from P7 to P21, after which it declines. These findings provide evidence for a developmental 'switch' in which Ca2+ permeable glutamate receptors are turned off following early developmental events.