The effects of the competitive and non-competitive N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonists, 3-[(+/- )-2-carboxypiperazin-4-yl]-propyl-1-phosphonic acid (CPP) and (+)-5-methyl-10,11-dihydro-5H-dibenzo[a,d]cyclo-hepten-5,10-imine maleate (MK801) were tested on hippocampal field potentials and long-term potentiation (LTP) in urethane-anesthetized rats. Neither drug had any significant effects on the dentate hilar population excitatory postsynaptic potential (EPSP) evoked by perforant path stimulation 30 or 150 min postinjection. However, both drugs produced a dose-dependent decrease in population spike amplitude at these times. Both drugs (at the highest doses) also blocked LTP when induced 150 min after administration, and this was related to a smaller response evoked during tetanization. CPP exerted similar effects on commissural-CA1 evoked responses and LTP. CPP remained an effective blocker of LTP for 6-8 h, and was still partially effective after 20-24 h. MK801 washed out more rapidly. The effect of MK801 on LTP did not depend on stimulus-evoked transmitter release during the pretetanization period. The results indicate that both CPP and MK801 have potent effects on LTP in the in vivo preparation, but that this is accompanied by an independent effect on evoked cell discharge.