We have examined the effects of oxidizing and reducing agents and sodium nitroprusside (SNP) on currents evoked by NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) using the Xenopus oocyte expression system. Oocytes were injected with RNA prepared from either whole rat brain or from the NMDAR1 clone recently isolated from rat brain. Bath application of 1-1000 microM SNP, which releases nitric oxide and ferrocyanide, caused a rapid inhibition of NMDA-evoked current in both preparations. The inhibitory effect reversed spontaneously within 15 min. Kainate responses were not affected by SNP. Exposure to the reducing agent, dithiothreitol (DTT), enhanced NMDA currents; the oxidant, 5,5-dithio-bis-2-nitrobenzoic acid (DTNB), inhibited NMDA responses, as has been observed in other preparations. The site of action of SNP appeared to be different than the DTT/DTNB redox site for several reasons: SNP and DTNB inhibitions were additive at high doses, DTT did not rapidly reverse SNP effects, and SNP and DTT treatments did not show the same susceptibility to block by the NMDA antagonist, aminophosphonovaleric acid (APV). The results demonstrate that modulation of NMDA receptors by SNP is a property of homomeric channels and is retained when the NMDAR1 subunit is expressed in oocytes.