The present study tested the hypothesis that the increase in extracellular striatal dopamine during hypoxia is least partly associated with activation of N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) and/or non-NMDA excitatory amino acid receptors. Studies were performed in anesthetized and mechanically ventilated 2-3 days old piglets. Hypoxic insult was induced by decreasing the oxygen fraction in inspired gas (FiO2) from 22 to 7% for 1 h, followed by 1 h reoxygenation at 22%. Cortical oxygen pressure was measured optically by oxygen dependent quenching of phosphorescence, and extracellular striatal dopamine was measured using in vivo microdialysis. The microdialysis probes were perfused with Ringer solution +/- 50 microM (+)-5-methyl-10,11-dihydro-5H-dibenzo[a,d]cyclohepten-5,10-imine maleate (MK-801) or 50 microM 2,3-dihydroxy-6-nitro-7-sulfamoyl-benzo(F)quinoxaline (NBQX). One hour of hypoxia decreased the cortical oxygen pressure from 46 +/- 3 Torr to 10 +/- 1.8 Torr. In striatum perfused with Ringer, statistically significant increase in extracellular dopamine, to 1050 +/- 310% of control, was observed after 20 min of hypoxia. By 40 min of hypoxia the extracellular level of dopamine increased to 4730 +/- 900% of control; by the end of the hypoxic period the values increased to 18,451 +/- 1670% of control. The presence of MK-801 in the perfusate significantly decreased the levels of extracellular dopamine during hypoxia. At 20, 40 and 60 min of hypoxia extracellular level of dopamine increased to 278 +/- 94% of control, 1530 +/- 339% of control and 14,709 +/- 1095 of control, respectively. The presence of NBQX caused a statistically significant decrease, by about 30%, in the extracellular dopamine compared to control, only at the end of the hypoxic period. It can be concluded that in striatum of newborn piglets, the excitatory NMDA receptors but not the non-NMDA receptors may be modulating the changes in extracellular levels of dopamine. The NMDA receptor antagonist, MK-801, may exert part of its reported neuroprotective effect to hypoxic stress in striatum by decreasing the levels of extracellular dopamine.