The amino acid, L-arginine (L-Arg), is a potent taste stimulus for the channel catfish, Ictalurus punctatus. Receptor binding studies demonstrated a high-affinity binding of L-Arg to putative taste receptor sites. This binding could be inhibited by preincubation of the tissue in the lectins Phaseolus vulgaris agglutinin (PHA) and Ricinus communis agglutinin I (RCA I). Neurophysiological studies demonstrated that the L-Arg receptor is a stimulus-gated ion channel type receptor whose conductance was stimulated by L-Arg and inhibited by D-arginine (D-Arg). To purify the receptor we subjected CHAPS solubilized partial membrane preparation from barbel epithelium to RCA I lectin affinity chromatography. The bound proteins were eluted with D-galactose. When these proteins were reconstituted into lipid bilayers, L-Arg activated single channel currents with conductances between 45 and 85 pS. Sodium dodecylsulfate polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE) of the eluted protein showed a distinct band at approximately 83 kDa. Polyclonal antibodies raised against this 83-kDa band in guinea pigs reacted with numerous small (approximately 1 micron) sites within the taste pore of every taste bud when applied to fixed nonpermeabilized barbels. This observation suggests that the antibodies recognize an externally-facing epitope of the putative Arg receptor. The antibodies also inhibited L-Arg-stimulated currents in reconstitution studies. Sephacryl S-300 HR chromatography of the eluant from the affinity column showed a high molecular weight peak (> 700 kDa) which was recognized by the antibodies. Reconstitution of the protein from this peak into a lipid bilayer resulted in L-Arg-stimulated channels that could be inhibited by D-Arg. This high molecular weight component may be aggregates of the arginine taste receptor.