Whole-cell membrane currents were recorded from olfactory receptor neurons from the neotenic salamander Necturus maculosus. Cyclic nucleotides, released intracellularly by flash photolysis of NPE-caged cAMP or NPE-caged cGMP, activated a transient chloride current. The chloride current could be elicited at constant voltage in the absence of extracellular Ca2+ as well as in the presence of 3 mM intracellular Ca2+, suggesting that the current did not require either voltage or Ca2+ transients for activation. The current could be elicited in the presence of the protein kinase inhibitors H-7 and H-89, and in the absence of intracellular ATP, indicating that activation was independent of protein kinase A activity. These results suggest that Necturus olfactory receptor neurons contain a novel chloride ion channel that may be directly gated by cyclic nucleotides.