N-Methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) glutamate receptors are a class of excitatory amino acid receptors, which have several important functions in the motor circuits of the basal ganglia, and are viewed as important targets for the development of new drugs to prevent or treat Parkinson's disease (PD). NMDA receptors are ligand-gated ion channels composed of multiple subunits, each of which has distinct cellular and regional patterns of expression. They have complex regulatory properties, with both agonist and co-agonist binding sites and regulation by phosphorylation and protein-protein interactions. They are found in all of the structures of the basal ganglia, although the subunit composition in the various structures is different. NMDA receptors present in the striatum are crucial for dopamine-glutamate interactions. The abundance, structure, and function of striatal receptors are altered by the dopamine depletion and further modified by the pharmacological treatments used in PD. In animal models, NMDA receptor antagonists are effective antiparkinsonian agents and can reduce the complications of chronic dopaminergic therapy (wearing off and dyskinesias). Use of these agents in humans has been limited because of the adverse effects associated with nonselective blockade of NMDA receptor function, but the development of more potent and selective pharmaceuticals holds the promise of an important new therapeutic approach for PD. © 2004 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.