The effects of several cerebroprotective and nootropic drugs on the function of excitatory amino acid (EAA) receptor subtypes expressed in Xenopus oocytes after injection of rodent brain poly(A)+ mRNA were investigated. The oocyte response to N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) in the presence of glycine (Gly) was inhibited dose-dependently by bifemelane, indeloxazine, vinpocetine and vincamine while no effect was observed by idebenone, Ca hopantenate, aniracetam or piracetam. Bifemelane, indeloxazine and vinpocetine suppressed the maximum response of NMDA and Gly without affecting their EC50 values. Unlike Mg2+, they did not affect the current-voltage relationship of the NMDA response below 0 mV. On the non-NMDA-type responses of the injected oocytes to kainate (KA), alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionate (AMPA) and quisqualate (QA), no significant effects were observed by these drugs at 100 microM. On the binding of [3H](+)-5-methyl-10,11-dihydro-5H-dibenzo[a,d]cyclohepten-5,10-imi ne (MK-801) to brain membranes, the estimated IC50 values were 88 microM for bifemelane, 102 microM for indeloxazine, and 115 microM for vinpocetine. The dissociation rate of [3H]MK-801 was significantly slowed by Zn2+ and vinpocetine, but not affected by bifemelane or indeloxazine. The Kd value for [3H]MK-801 binding was increased by bifemelane and indeloxazine while Bmax was unchanged. These results suggest that the inhibition of NMDA channels by vinpocetine shows a similarity to the action of Zn2+ which closes the gate of the NMDA channel. In contrast, bifemelane and indeloxazine may affect the phencyclidine (PCP)-site in the open channels and inhibit NMDA function.