The glutamate receptor (GluR) channel plays a key part in brain function. Among GluR channel subtypes, the NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) receptor channel which is highly permeable to Ca2+ is essential for the synaptic plasticity underlying memory, learning and development. Furthermore, abnormal activation of the NMDA receptor channel may trigger the neuronal cell death observed in various brain disorders. A complementary DNA encoding a subunit of the rodent NMDA receptor channel (NMDAR1 or zeta 1) has been cloned and its functional properties investigated. Here we report the identification and primary structure of a novel mouse NMDA receptor channel subunit, designated as epsilon 1, after cloning and sequencing the cDNA. The epsilon 1 subunit shows 11-18% amino-acid sequence identity with rodent GluR channel subunits that have been characterized so far and has structural features common to neurotransmitter-gated ion channels. Expression from cloned cDNAs of the epsilon 1 subunit together with the zeta 1 subunit in Xenopus oocytes yields functional GluR channels with high activity and characteristics of the NMDA receptor channel. Furthermore, the heteromeric NMDA receptor channel can be activated by glycine alone.