NMDA receptors (NMDARs) are glutamate-gated ion channels and are crucial for neuronal communication. NMDARs form tetrameric complexes that consist of several homologous subunits. The subunit composition of NMDARs is plastic, resulting in a large number of receptor subtypes. As each receptor subtype has distinct biophysical, pharmacological and signalling properties, there is great interest in determining whether individual subtypes carry out specific functions in the CNS in both normal and pathological conditions. Here, we review the effects of subunit composition on NMDAR properties, synaptic plasticity and cellular mechanisms implicated in neuropsychiatric disorders. Understanding the rules and roles of NMDAR diversity could provide new therapeutic strategies against dysfunctions of glutamatergic transmission.