We quantified the effect of the excitatory amino acids kainate and glutamate on the uptake of cobalt in primary rat cerebellar granule neurons, by using inductively coupled plasma-atomic emission spectroscopy (ICP-AES). We quantitatively demonstrated that Co2+ uptake, although enhanced by glutamate and kainate also takes place in the absence of excitatory amino acids. We also found that cobalt uptake is not significantly altered by the presence of glutamate receptor competitive or noncompetitive antagonists, indicating that cobalt uptake in granule neurons does not require glutamate receptor stimulation. Our results suggest, therefore, that Co2+ may enter the cell by passive diffusion through the plasma membrane. (C) 1998 Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd.