The aim of this study was to examine the possible role of N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor mechanisms in responses induced by the small-fibre excitant and inflammatory irritant mustard oil injected into the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) region of rats. The effects of the non-competitive NMDA antagonist MK-801 were tested on the mustard oil-evoked increases in electromyographic (EMG) activity of the masseter and digastric muscles and Evans Blue plasma extravasation. Five minutes before the mustard oil injection, MK-801 or its vehicle was administered systemically (i.v.), into the third ventricle (i.c.v.), or locally into the TMJ region. Compared with control animals receiving vehicle, the rats receiving MK-801 at an i.v. dose of 0.5 mg/kg (n = 5) showed a significant reduction in the incidence and magnitude of EMG responses as well as in the plasma extravasation evoked by mustard oil; MK-801 at an i.v. dose of 0.1 mg/kg (n = 5) had no significant effect on plasma extravasation or on the incidence and magnitude of EMG responses but did significantly increase the latency of EMG responses. An i.c.v. dose of 0.1 mg/kg (n = 5) or 0.01 mg/kg (n = 5) had no significant effect on plasma extravasation or incidence of EMG responses but did significantly reduce the magnitudes of the masseter EMG response; the 0.01 mg/kg dose also significantly increased the latency of the digastric EMG response. The magnitudes of both the masseter and digastric EMG responses were also significantly reduced by MK-801 administered into the TMJ region at a dose of 0.1 mg/kg (n = 5) but not by 0.01 mg/kg (n = 5); neither dose significantly affected the incidence of EMG responses or the plasma extravasation. These data suggest that both central and peripheral NMDA receptor mechanisms may play an important role in EMG responses evoked by the small-fibre excitant and inflammatory irritant mustard oil, but that different neurochemical mechanisms may be involved in the plasma extravasation induced by mustard oil.