Alpha-actinin (α-actinin-2) is a protein which links the NR1 and NR2B subunits of N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) glutamate receptors to the actin cytoskeleton. Because of the importance of NMDA receptors in modulating the function of the striatum, we have examined the localization of α-actinin-2 protein and mRNA in striatal neurons, and its biochemical interaction with NMDA receptor subunits present in the rat striatum. Using an α-actinin-2-specific antibody, we found intense immunoreactivity in the striatal neuropil and within striatal neurons that also expressed parvalbumin, calretinin and calbindin. Conversely, α-actinin-2 immunoreactivity was not detected in neurons expressing choline acetyltransferase and neuronal nitric oxide synthase. Dual-label in situ hybridization revealed that the highest expression of α-actinin-2 mRNA is in substance P-containing striatal projection neurons. The α-actinin-2 mRNA is also present in enkephalinergic projection neurons and interneurons expressing parvalbumin, choline acetyl transferase and the 67-kDa isoform of glutamic acid decarboxylase, but was not detected in somatostatin-expressing interneurons. Immunoprecipitation of membrane protein extracts showed that α-actinin-2 is present in heteromeric complexes of NMDA subunits, but is not associated with AMPA receptors in the striatum. A subunit-specific anti-NR1 antibody co-precipitated major fractions of NR2A and NR2B subunits, but only a minor fraction of striatal α-actinin-2. Conversely, α-actinin-2 antibody immunoprecipitated only modest fractions of striatal NR1, NR2A and NR2B subunits. These data demonstrate that α-actinin-2 is a very abundant striatal protein, but exhibits cellular specificity in its expression, with very high levels in substance-P-containing projection neurons, and very low levels in somatostatin and neuronal nitric oxide synthase interneurons. Despite the high expression of this protein in the striatum, only a minority of NMDA receptors are linked to α-actinin-2. This interaction may identify a subset of receptors with distinct anatomical and functional properties. Copyright (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V.