The endogenous polyamines spermine and spermidine increase the binding of [3H]MK-801 to NMDA receptors. This effect is antagonized by diethylenetriamine (DET). We report here that spermine increases the rates of both association and dissociation of binding of [3H]MK-801, suggesting that it increases the accessibility of the binding site for MK-801 within the ion channel of the receptor complex. 1,10-Diaminodecane (DA10) inhibited the binding of [3H]MK-801. This effect was due to a decrease in the rate of association with no change in the rate of dissociation of [3H]MK-801. The effect of DA10 was not mediated by an action of DA10 at the binding sites for glutamate, glycine, Mg2+, or Zn2+, and was attenuated by DET. This suggests that DA10 acts at the polyamine recognition site. In hippocampal neurons the NMDA-elicited current was decreased by DA10, an effect opposite to that of spermine. The effects of spermine and DA10 were selectively blocked by DET. It is concluded that DA10 acts as a negative allosteric modulator or inverse agonist at the polyamine recognition site of the NMDA receptor.