Exposure to galactic cosmic radiation (GCR) is considered to be a potential health risk in long-term space travel, and it represents a significant risk to the central nervous system (CNS). The most harmful component of GCR is the HZE [high-mass, highly charged (Z), high-energy] particles, e.g. (56)Fe. In ground-based experiments, exposure to HZE-particle radiation induces pronounced deficits in hippocampus-dependent learning and memory in rodents. The mechanisms underlying these impairments are mostly unknown, but some studies suggest that HZE-particle exposure perturbs the regulation of long-term potentiation (LTP) at the CA1 synapse in the hippocampus. In this study, we irradiated rats with 60 cGy of 1 GeV (56)Fe-particle radiation and established its impact on hippocampal glutamatergic neurotransmissions at 3 and 6 months after exposure. Exposure to 60 cGy (56)Fe-particle radiation significantly (P < 0.05) reduced hyperosmotic sucrose evoked [(3)H]-glutamate release from hippocampal synaptosomes, a measure of the readily releasable vesicular pool (RRP). This HZE-particle-induced reduction in the glutamatergic RRP persisted for at least 6 months after exposure. At 90 days postirradiation, there was a significant reduction in the expression of the NR1, NR2A and NR2B subunits of the glutamatergic NMDA receptor. The level of the NR2A protein remained suppressed at 180 days postirradiation, but the level of NR2B and NR1 proteins returned to or exceeded normal levels, respectively. Overall, this study shows that hippocampal glutamatergic transmission is sensitive to relative low doses of (56)Fe particles. Whether the observed HZE-particle-induced change in glutamate transmission, which plays a critical role in learning and memory, is the cause of HZE-particle-induced neurocognitive impairment requires further investigation.