Nitric oxide (NO) is an important messenger both systemically and in the CNS. In digital Ca2+ imaging and patch-clamp experiments, clinically available nitroso compounds that generate NO are shown to inhibit responses mediated by the NMDA subtype of the glutamate receptor on rat cortical neurons in vitro. A mechanism of action for this effect was investigated by using the specific NO-generating agent S-nitrosocysteine. We propose that free sulfhydryl groups on the NMDA receptor-channel complex react to form one or more S-nitrosothiols in the presence of NO. If vicinal thiol groups react in this manner, they can form a disulfide bond(s), which is thought to constitute the redox modulatory site of the receptor, resulting in a relatively persistent blockade of NMDA responses. These reactions with NO can afford protection from NMDA receptor-mediated neurotoxicity. Our results demonstrate a new pathway for NO regulation of physiological function that is not via cGMP, but instead involves reactions with membrane-bound thiol groups on the NMDA receptor-channel complex.