The modulation of glutamatergic transmission by ethanol may contribute to ethanol intoxication, reinforcement, tolerance, and dependence. Therefore, we used in vitro electrophysiological and in vivo microdialysis techniques to investigate the effects of acute and chronic ethanol on glutamatergic transmission in the central nucleus of amygdala (CeA). Superfusion of 5-66 mM ethanol decreased compound glutamatergic EPSPs and EPSCs in CeA neurons, with half-maximal inhibition elicited by 14 mM ethanol. Ethanol (44 mM) decreased both non-NMDAR- and NMDAR-mediated EPSPs and EPSCs by 21%. Both the ethanol- and ifenprodil-induced depression of NMDAR-mediated EPSPs and EPSCs was enhanced in rats that received chronic ethanol treatment (CET). Ifenprodil also occluded the ethanol effect, suggesting that NR2B subunit-containing receptors may be involved. With local applications of NMDA, acute ethanol elicited a greater inhibition of NMDA currents in slices taken from CET (47%) compared with naive (30%) animals, suggesting that CET sensitizes NMDA receptors to ethanol. Acute ethanol also reduced paired pulse facilitation of EPSPs and EPSCs only in CET animals, suggesting acute ethanol-induced increase of glutamate release. This finding was supported by in vivo experiments showing that infusion of ethanol (0.1-1 M) via reverse microdialysis significantly increased glutamate release into the CeA dialysate but only after CET. Moreover, baseline CeA glutamate content was significantly higher in CET compared with naive animals. These combined findings suggest that CET and withdrawal lead to neuroadaptations of glutamatergic transmission at both presynaptic and postsynaptic sites in CeA, and glutamatergic synapses in CeA may play an important role in ethanol dependence.