Nitric oxide synthase I (NOS I) has been localized to the skeletal muscle sarcolemma in a variety of vertebrate species including man. It is particularly enriched at neuromuscular junctions. Recently, the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor subunit 1 (NMDAR-1) has been detected in the postjunctional sarcolemma of rat diaphragm, providing a clue as to the possible source of Ca2+ ions that are necessary for NOS I activation. To address this possibility, we studied the distribution of NMDAR-1 and NOS I in mouse and rat skeletal muscles by immunohistochemistry and enzyme histochemistry. NMDAR-1 and NOS I were closely associated at neuromuscular junctions primarily of type II muscle fibers. NOS I was also present in the extrajunctional sarcolemma of this fiber type. Dystrophin, beta-dystroglycan, alpha-sarcoglycan, and spectrin were found normally expressed in both the junctional and extrajunctional sarcolemma of both fiber types. By contrast, in the muscle sarcolemma of MDX mice, dystrophin and dystrophin-associated proteins were reduced or absent. NOS I immunoreactivity was lost from the extrajunctional sarcolemma and barely detectable in the junctional sarcolemma. NOS I activity was clearly demonstrable in the junctional sarcolemma by NADPH diaphorase histochemistry, especially when the two-step method was used. NMDAR-1 was not altered. These data suggest that different mechanisms act to attach NOS I to the junctional versus extrajunctional sarcolemma. It may further be postulated that NMDA receptors are involved not only in the regulation but also sarcolemmal targeting of NOS I at neuromuscular junctions of type II fibers. The evidence that glutamate may function as a messenger molecule at vertebrate neuromuscular junction is discussed.