The N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor-channel complex exists in multiple forms which probably have different physiological and pharmacological properties. To further evaluate this concept of different NMDA receptor subtypes, receptor binding and autoradiographic techniques were used to study the phencyclidine (PCP) binding site of the NMDA receptor ion-channel complex. [3H]MK-801 was employed to characterize binding properties of (+)-MK-801, (-)-MK-801, phencyclidine (PCP), (+/-)-ketamine, amantadine (1-amino-adamantane) and memantine (3,5-dimethyl-1-amino-adamantane) in different brain regions. Saturation experiments on homogenized membranes revealed the existence of single classes of binding sites in cortex and cerebellum but with significant different affinities between these regions (KD/Cortex = 4.59 nM, Bmax/Cortex = 0.836 pmol/mg protein; KD/Cereb. = 25.99 nM, Bmax/Cereb. = 0.573 pmol/mg protein) suggesting that the lower affinity in cerebellum indicates another population of NMDA receptor channels. In contrast, in striatum there was clear evidence for two binding sites (KD/high = 1.43 nM, Bmax/high = 0.272 pmol/mg protein; KD/low = 12.15 nM, Bmax/low = 1.76 pmol/mg protein). Displacement studies (autoradiography and binding) revealed a lower affinity for unlabeled (+)-MK-801 in striatum which was clearly not the case for memantine. In cerebellar membranes there was a significant decrease in the affinity for both MK-801 enantiomers and PCP but not for the 1-amino-adamantanes. In contrast, all compounds showed lowered affinity in the dentate gyrus. These findings support NMDA receptor heterogeneity which may be of particular relevance for the development of subtype-selective drugs.