1. The actions of the uncompetitive N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonists, memantine (1-amino-3,5-dimethyladamantane) and (+)-MK-801 ((+)-5-methyl-10,11-dihydro-5H-dibenzo[a,d]cyclohepten-5,10-imine maleate, dizocilpine), on recombinant NMDA receptors has been studied by use of the whole-cell patch clamp technique. 2. Human embryonic kidney (HEK) 293 cells were transiently transfected with different NMDA receptor subunit combinations (NR1a/NR2A, NR1a/NR2B and NR1a/NR2D). A mutant form of the green fluorescent protein (GFP) cotransfected with the NMDA receptor subunits to enable the visualization of transfected cells. 3. Memantine (0.3-30 microM) blocked L-glutamate (100 microM)-mediated currents in a concentration-dependent manner in NR1a/NR2A, NR1a/NR2B and NR1a/NR2D transfected cells with IC50 values (at -70 mV) of 0.93 +/- 0.15 microM, 0.82 +/- 0.12 microM and 0.47 +/- 0.06 microM (mean +/- s.c. mean), respectively. 4. The memantine-induced block was strongly voltage-dependent. Alteration of the holding potential from -70 mV to +60 mV resulted in an e-fold increase in the IC50 values per 30-33 mV change in membrane potential, for all 3 subunit combinations investigated. 5. The kinetics of the actions of memantine (30 microM) were investigated for the NR1a/2A combination, in 6 cells (13-15 determinations). At -70 mV, the block and recovery from block were both best described by two exponentials with time-constants of 201 +/- 23 ms (81 +/- 2%) and 3.9 +/- 0.6 s and 597 +/- 94 ms (18 +/- 1%) and 18.6 +/- 2.4 s, respectively. The predominant effect of depolarization was to increase the weight of the faster recovery time-constant. Kinetic analysis suggests that these results are consistent with previously proposed Markov models. 6. (+)-MK-801 was studied briefly for comparative purposes. (+)-MK-801 (200 nM) preferentially blocked NMDA receptor currents (at -70 mV) in NR1a/NR2A and NR1a/NR2B (82 +/- 10% and 93 +/- 2% depressions) compared to NR1a/NR2D (38 +/- 7%) transfected cells. (+)-MK-801 appeared to be less voltage-dependent than memantine on all three receptor combinations. 7. In conclusion, memantine was a voltage-dependent antagonist of recombinant rat NMDA receptors expressed in HEK 293 cells but showed little selectivity between the subunits investigated. Its actions on these recombinant receptor combinations are similar to its actions on native NMDA receptors.