The behavioural and biochemical effects of the non-competitive N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonists, dizocilpine and memantine, and the competitive NMDA receptor antagonist, CGP 39551, were investigated in rats. Systemic injections of dizocilpine (0.33 mg/kg) increased locomotion and rearing in an open field, whereas memantine (20 mg/kg) increased only locomotor activity. CGP 39551 (10 and 20 mg/kg) did not change open field activity. Dopamine (DA) metabolism--as measured by the ratio of dihydroxyphenylacetic acid/dopamine (DOPAC/DA)--increased in response to dizocilpine in the prefrontal cortex and the nucleus accumbens. Memantine enhanced DOPAC/DA in the prefrontal cortex, the nucleus accumbens and to a lesser degree in the posterior striatum. In contrast to non-competitive NMDA receptor antagonists, CGP 39551 did not increase DA metabolism of subcortical structures and even decreased DOPAC/DA in the prefrontal cortex. These results indicate that competitive and non-competitive NMDA receptor antagonists affect spontaneous locomotion differentially in rats. The biochemical data imply that the stimulant actions non-competitive NMDA receptor antagonists are at least partially due to activation of ascending dopaminergic systems. Potential mechanisms involved in the differential effects of both types of NMDA receptor antagonists are discussed.