The effects of the metabotropic glutamate receptor antagonist (+)-alpha-methyl-4-carboxyphenylglycine (MCPG) on performance in a water maze and in context-specific associative learning were examined in rats previously implanted with cannulae. MCPG (20.8 micrograms) injected intraventricularly (i.c.v.) before testing impaired the performance of rats in the spatial version of the Morris water maze, but 1/10 of this dose did not. Memory retention, evaluated 24 hr post-training, was also affected by the high dose of MCPG. However, performance in a cued version of the water maze was not impaired by the high dose, excluding effects of the drug on perceptual faculties. The effects of the MCPG were further characterized on performance in another hippocampus-dependent spatial learning task, the context-dependent fear conditioning task. MCPG (20.8 micrograms, i.c.v.) did not interfere with conditioned freezing to context in this task. For comparison, a group of rats was injected with the NMDA receptor blocker MK801. MK801 at a dose that disrupted the performance in the spatial version of the Morris water maze (0.08 mg/kg), significantly reduced freezing compared to controls. These experiments indicate that MCPG-sensitive metabotropic receptors may be required for only a restricted subset of spatial learning tasks, while NMDA receptors may play an integral role in all spatial learning.