Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the most common neurobehavioural disorder among children. ADHD children are hyperactive, impulsive and have problems with sustained attention. These cardinal features are also present in the best validated animal model of ADHD, the spontaneously hypertensive rat (SHR), which is derived from the Wistar Kyoto rat (WKY). Current theories of ADHD relate symptom development to factors that alter learning. N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) dependent long term changes in synaptic efficacy in the mammalian CNS are thought to represent underlying cellular mechanisms for some forms of learning. We therefore hypothesized that synaptic abnormality in excitatory, glutamatergic synaptic transmission might contribute to the altered behavior in SHRs. We studied physiological and anatomical aspects of hippocampal CA3-to-CA1 synapses in age-matched SHR and WKY (controls). Electrophysiological analysis of these synapses showed reduced synaptic transmission (reduced field excitatory postsynaptic potential for a defined fiber volley size) in SHR, whereas short-term forms of synaptic plasticity, like paired-pulse facilitation, frequency facilitation, and delayed response enhancement were comparable in the two genotypes, and long-term potentiation (LTP) of synaptic transmission was of similar magnitude. However, LTP in SHR was significantly reduced (by 50%) by the NR2B specific blocker CP-101,606 (10 microM), whereas the blocker had no effect on LTP magnitude in the control rats. This indicates that the SHR has a functional predominance of NR2B, a feature characteristic of early developmental stages in these synapses. Quantitative immunofluorescence and electron microscopic postembedding immunogold cytochemistry of the three major NMDAR subunits (NR1, NR2A; and NR2B) in stratum radiatum spine synapses revealed no differences between SHR and WKY. The results indicate that functional impairments in glutamatergic synaptic transmission may be one of the underlying mechanisms leading to the abnormal behavior in SHR, and possibly in human ADHD.