Recent studies have shown that a brief 'pre-conditioning' ischaemic insult reduces the hippocampal cell death caused by a subsequent more severe test insult. In the present studies, we have examined the effects of the non-competitive NMDA receptor antagonist ((5R,10S)-(+)-5-methyl-10,11-dihydro-5H-dibenzo[a,d]cyclohepten-5, 10-imine, MK-801) a competitive NMDA receptor antagonist, LY202157, AMPA receptor antagonist ((3S,4aR,6R,8aR)-6-[2-(1(2)H-tetrazole-5-yl)]decahydroiso quinoline-3-carboxylic acid, LY293558), a non-competitive AMPA receptor antagonist ((-)-1-(4-amino-phenyl)-4-methyl-7,8-methylenedioxy-4,5-dihydro-3-acetyl -2,3-benzodiazepine, LY300164), and a mixed NMDA/AMPA receptor antagonist, LY246492, in a gerbil model of ischaemic tolerance. Ischaemic tolerance was induced by subjecting gerbils to a 2-min 'pre-conditioning' ischaemia (bilateral carotid occlusion) 2 days prior to a 3-min test ischaemia. The effects of MK-801 (2 mg/kg i.p.), LY293558 (20 mg/kg i.p., followed by 4 x 10 mg/kg at 3 h intervals), LY300164 (4 x 10 mg/kg i.p. at 1 h intervals), LY246492 (40 mg/kg i.p., followed by 4 x 20 mg/kg i.p. at 3 h intervals) and LY202157 (30 mg/kg i.p., followed by 4 x 15 mg/kg i.p. at 2 h intervals) were then examined in this model. Initial dosing commenced 30 min prior to the 2-min 'pre-conditioning' ischaemia. Results indicated that a 2-min 'pre-conditioning' ischaemia produced ischaemic tolerance in all cases. The non-competitive NMDA receptor antagonist, MK-801, produced a significant (P < 0.01) reduction in the induced tolerance, while the competitive NMDA receptor antagonist, LY202157, also attenuated (P < 0.05) the induction of tolerance. In contrast, two AMPA receptor antagonists (LY293558 and LY300164) and a mixed NMDA/AMPA receptor antagonist (LY246492) had no effect on the induction of tolerance. These results suggest that NMDA receptor activation, but not AMPA receptor activation is involved in the phenomenon of ischaemic tolerance.