These experiments examined the effects of intra-amygdala injections of NMDA receptor antagonists on the acquisition and retention of inhibitory avoidance. In Expt. I, rats received bilateral intra-amygdala injections of the NMDA antagonists D,L-AP5 (1-10 micrograms), D-AP5 (0.03-1 micrograms), CPP (0.125 or 0.375 microgram), or MK-801 (0.2 or 0.5 microgram) prior to training in a continuous multiple-trial inhibitory avoidance (CMIA) task. Acquisition of the task was not significantly affected by any of the drug injections. In contrast, all three competitive antagonists, D,L-AP5, D-AP5 and CPP, produced dose-dependent impairment of 48 h retention performance. Although the MK-801 injections did not significantly impair retention performance, the retention scores of the 0.5 microgram MK-801 group were bimodally distributed, indicating retention impairment in a subgroup of the animals given that dose. Intra-amygdala injections of 3 or 10 micrograms D,L-AP5 did not affect footshock sensitivity (Expt. II) or locomotor activity (Expt. III) and their retention-impairing effects were not due to induction of state dependency (Expt. IV). The retention-impairing effects of intra-amygdala injections of NMDA antagonists were not due to diffusion of the drugs dorsally: injections of 1 microgram D-AP5 into the striatal area directly above the amygdala impaired acquisition but not retention performance (Expt. V). The retention-impairing effects of 1 microgram D-AP5 or 0.5 microgram MK-801 were attenuated by giving additional training to the animals shortly after receiving intra-amygdala injections (Expt. VI). The implications of these findings for hypotheses concerning amygdala function in learning and memory are discussed.