Several experiments were conducted to study the effects of the noncompetitive N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist, MK-801, on learning and memory in the rat. Rats displayed impaired performance on several sensorimotor tests and appeared grossly intoxicated when treated IP with 0.2 mg/kg MK-801, but not when treated with lower doses (0.05 or 0.1 mg/kg). Postacquisition performance on two spatial learning tasks involving working memory protocols (reinforced alternation and radial arm maze) was impaired by MK-801 at intoxicating doses (greater than or equal to 0.2 mg/kg) but not at lower doses (0.05 or 0.1 mg/kg). Using a position habit reversal task, we found that rats could learn to reverse a position habit while under the influence of a nonintoxicating dose of MK-801 (0.1 mg/kg), but when tested on the following day performed as if they did not recall what they had learned. Thus, acute administration of a nonintoxicating dose of MK-801 disrupts the retention of new information learned under the influence of the drug but does not interfere with the performance of tasks that are well learned before the drug is administered. Whether the performance deficits on the spatial learning tasks observed only following intoxicating doses of MK-801 reflect an effect on memory is not clear.