AIM To characterize the effect of combined pre- and postnatal morphine exposure on N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDA) receptor signaling in hippocampal neurons of the offspring of morphine-addicted female rats. METHODS Cultured hippocampal neurons and synaptosomes were prepared from neonatal and 2-week-old offspring, respectively, of control or morphine-addicted female rats. The increase in the cytosolic Ca2+ concentration ([Ca2+]i) of cultured cells was measured using Fura-2, and glutamate release from synaptosomes was measured enzymatically. RESULTS Both glutamate and NMDA caused a dose-dependent increase in the [Ca2+]i. The nitric oxide (NO) donor, S-nitrosoglutathione (GSNO), but not 3-morpholinosydnonimine, sodium nitroprusside, and S-nitroso-N-acetylpenicillamine, also induced a [Ca2+]i increase. GSNO and glutathione caused a dose-dependent increase in the [Ca2+]i with respective EC50 values of 56 and 414 micromol/L. Both effects were inhibited by Mg2+ or an NMDA receptor antagonist and were unaffected by the presence of a glutamate scavenger. The other glutathione derivatives, oxidized glutathione, S-methylglutathione, S-ethylglutathione, S-propylglutathione, and S-butylglutathione, the dipeptides, Glu-Cys and Cys-Gly, and the antioxidants, dithiothreitol and mercaptoethanol, failed to induce a [Ca2+]i increase. In addition, glutathione caused a dose-dependent increase in glutamate release from synaptosomes. The maximal responses and the EC50 values for the glutamate-, NMDA-, GSNO-, and glutathione-induced [Ca2+]i increases and the glutathione-induced glutamate release were indistinguishable in the neurons of the offspring from control and morphine-addicted female rats. CONCLUSION GSNO and glutathione act as NMDA receptor agonists and, in contrast to hippocampal brain slice, combined pre- and postnatal morphine exposure does not modulate NMDA receptor signaling in the cultured hippocampal neurons.