Excitatory amino acid afferents from cerebral cortex and dopamine afferents from the substantia nigra synapse on common projection neurons in the striatum. Activation of D1 dopamine receptors increases immediate early gene expression in the striatum and conductance through the N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptor. To examine the contribution of NMDA receptor activation to dopamine receptor-mediated responses, we determined the effects of intrastriatal administration of NMDA antagonists on immediate early gene expression in the striatum and rotational behavior induced by stimulation of the D1 receptor in rats with unilateral dopamine depletions. Systemic administration of SKF 38393 increased c-fos and zif268 mRNAs in the striatum and induced contralateral rotation. Intrastriatal infusion of the competitive NMDA receptor antagonist (+/-)-3-(2-carboxypiperazin-4-yl)-propyl -1-phosphonic acid caused a dose-dependent attenuation of SKF 38393-induced rotation and partially decreased c-fos mRNA expression. However, D1-mediated increases in zif268 mRNA were not affected, except by the highest concentration of antagonist used (10 mM). Another competitive antagonist, 2-amino-5-phosphonovaleric acid, had similar effects. Like the competitive antagonists, intrastriatal infusion of the non-competitive NMDA antagonist MK-801 partially decreased c-fos, but not zif268, mRNA in the area around the microdialysis probe. However, unlike competitive antagonists, local infusion of 1 mM MK-801 potentiated D1-mediated increases in c-fos and zif268 mRNAs in lateral striatum. These data suggest that 1) some D1 dopamine receptor-mediated effects on striatal function are independent of ongoing NMDA receptor activation, whereas other effects are at least partially mediated by NMDA receptor activity in the striatum, and 2) competitive and non-competitive antagonists of the NMDA receptor differently affect D1-mediated immediate early gene expression in the striatum.