1. N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor responses were recorded from rat hippocampal neurons grown in dissociated culture, using whole-cell, outside-out and nucleated patch recording techniques. Rapid perfusion was used to study voltage-dependent block of NMDA receptors by 9-aminoacridine (9-AA) and by Mg2+. 2. Large amplitude tail currents were evoked on depolarization to +60 mV after application at -100 mV of NMDA and 9-AA but not NMDA and Mg2+. These tail currents were resistant to block by competitive antagonists to the glutamate and glycine binding sites on NMDA receptors and were not evoked when either NMDA or 9-AA were applied alone. 3. The decay kinetics of the tail current were dependent on agonist affinity; the time required for 80% charge transfer was 10-fold briefer for NMDA than for glutamate and 7-fold briefer for L-alanine than for glycine. These results are in accord with a sequential model for block of NMDA receptors by 9-AA, in which neither glutamate nor glycine can dissociate from the open-blocked state of the receptor. 4. Tail current responses had amplitudes 2- to 4-fold larger than responses to maximally effective concentrations of glutamate and glycine, indicating that NMDA receptor channels accumulate in the open-blocked state during co-application of agonist and 9-AA. The rise time and decay kinetics of tail current responses were faster than the response to brief applications of a maximally effective concentration of glutamate. Together, these results suggest that at +60 mV recovery from block by 9-AA occurs faster than the rate of opening of NMDA receptors in response to glutamate. 5. Our experiments suggest that open channel block of NMDA receptors can provide a novel approach for measurement of both open probability and the first latency distribution for ion channel opening in response to the binding of agonists, and provide additional evidence suggesting that the delayed opening of NMDA receptor channels underlies slow activation and deactivation of responses to glutamate.