N-Methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors are enriched in the neostriatum and are thought to mediate several actions of glutamate including neuronal excitability, long-term synaptic plasticity, and excitotoxic injury. NMDA receptors are assembled from several subunits (NMDAR1, NMDAR2A-D) encoded by five genes; alternative splicing gives rise to eight isoforms of subunit NMDAR1. We studied the expression of NMDA receptor subunits in neurochemically identified striatal neurons of adult rats by in situ hybridization histochemistry using a double-labeling technique. Enkephalin- positive projection neurons, somatostatin-positive interneurons, and cholinergic interneurons each have distinct NMDA receptor subunit phenotypes. Both populations of striatal interneurons examined express lower levels of NMDAR1 and NMDAR2B subunit mRNA than enkephalin-positive neurons. The three striatal cell populations differ also in the presence of markers for alternatively spliced regions of NMDAR1, suggesting that interneurons preferentially express NMDAR1 splice forms lacking one (cholinergic neurons) or both (somatostatin-positive neurons) alternatively spliced carboxy- terminal regions. In addition, somatostatin- and cholinergic-, but not enkephalin-positive neurons express NMDAR2D mRNA. Thus, these striatal cell populations express different NMDAR-subunit mRNA phenotypes and therefore are likely to display NMDA channels with distinct pharmacological and physiological properties. Differences in NMDA receptor expression may contribute to the relative resistance of striatal interneurons to the neurotoxic effect of NMDA receptor agonists.