NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) receptors serve as modulators of synaptic transmission in the mammalian central nervous system (CNS) with both short-term and long-lasting effects. Divalent cations are pivotal in determining this behaviour in that Mg2+ blocks the ion channel in a voltage-dependent manner, and Ca2+ permeates NMDA channels. Zn2+ could also modulate neuronal excitability because it is present at high concentrations in brain, especially the synaptic vesicles of mossy fibers in the hippocampus and is released with neuronal activity. Both proconvulsant and depressant actions of Zn2+ have been reported. We have found that zinc is a potent non-competitive antagonist of NMDA responses on cultured hippocampal neurons. Unlike Mg2+, the effect of Zn2+ is not voltage-sensitive between -40 and +60 mV, suggesting that Zn2+ and Mg2+ act at distinct sites. In addition, we have found that Zn2+ antagonizes responses to the inhibitory transmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). Our results provide evidence for an additional metal-binding site on the NMDA receptor channel, and suggest that Zn2+ may regulate both excitatory and inhibitory synaptic transmission in the hippocampus.