Most of the recent evidence suggests that the avermectin/milbemycin family of anthelmintics act via specific interactions with glutamate-gated chloride channels. These channels are encoded by a small family of genes in nematodes, though the composition of the gene family and the function of the individual members of the family may vary between species. We review our current knowledge concerning the properties of the glutamate-gated chloride channels from Caenorhabditis elegans and the related parasite, Haemonchus contortus. We conclude that the biological effects of the avermectins/milbemycins can be largely explained by the known pharmacology and distribution of the glutamate-gated chloride channels and that differences between the glutamate-gated chloride channels from different nematodes may underlie species-specific variations in anthelmintic action. (C) 2003 Australian Society for Parasitology Inc. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.