Ionotropic receptors mediate rapid communication between neurons. These receptors are oligomers and are usually assembled from multiple subunit types. Receptors built from different subunit combinations have distinct functional properties, such as single-channel conductances, rates of desensitization and sensitivities to activators and inactivators; they can also have different intracellular locations. Methods are now available for determining not only the subunit stoichiometry but also the subunit arrangement within ionotropic receptors. This information will inform experiments designed to understand the molecular basis of receptor assembly and function. It will also permit the modelling of potential ligand-binding sites at the interfaces between the subunits and should lead to a more rational approach to drug development.