Recent studies from our laboratory have provided evidence that multiple states of the phencyclidine (PCP) receptor exist. In addition, several compounds such as PCP and the novel anticonvulsant MK-801 were found to inhibit binding more potently in the presence of Mg2+ and L-glutamate (L-GLU) than when these agents were excluded from the binding assay. In the present study, a number of pharmacological compounds that have been suggested to interact within the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor complex, including tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), were examined for their ability to inhibit the binding of [3H]1-[1-(2-thienyl)cyclohexyl]piperidine [( 3H]TCP) in the absence or presence of Mg2+ and L-GLU. The TCAs imipramine, amitriptyline, and opipramol produced shallow inhibition curves in the absence of Mg2+ and L-GLU. Computer analysis of the binding data indicated that a two-component binding model described the data significantly better than a one-component model. In the presence of Mg2+ and L-GLU, the inhibition curves became steeper and were shifted to the right, and computer analysis of the binding data indicated that a one-component model adequately described the binding data. A series of other centrally active compounds, including several antipsychotics and antihistamines, the antiparkinsonian anticholinergic trihexyphenidyl and the antitussive dextromethorphan, were also found to be affected similarly by the inclusion of Mg2+ and L-GLU in the binding assay. Dextrorphan, in contrast to dextromethorphan, inhibited [3H]TCP binding more potently in the presence of Mg2+ and L-GLU. The present results suggest that the compounds that inhibit binding more potently in the absence of Mg2+ and L-GLU are interacting with the PCP receptor in a different manner from that of PCP and MK-801, because these open-channel blockers inhibit [3H]TCP binding more potently in the presence of Mg2+ and L-GLU. The data support previous findings that TCAs interact with the NMDA receptor complex and suggest that the compounds trihexyphenidyl and dextromethorphan, which have been shown to block NMDA-mediated neurotoxicity, may produce their effects through an interaction with the PCP receptor, albeit by a different mechanism from that of open-channel blockers.