N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NR) activation in the hippocampus and neocortex plays a central role in memory and cognitive function. We analyzed the cellular expression of the five NR subunit (NR1 and NR2A-D) mRNAs in these regions with in situ hybridization and human ribonucleotide probes. Film autoradiograms demonstrated a distinct pattern of hybridization signal in the hippocampal complex and the neocortex with probes for NR1, NR2A, and NR2B mRNA. NR2C and NR2D probes yielded scattered signals without a distinct organization. At the emulsion level, the NR1 probe produced high-density hybridization signals across the hippocampal complex. NR2A mRNA was higher in dentate granule cells and pyramidal cells in CA1 and subiculum compared to hilus neurons. NR2B mRNA expression was moderate throughout, with higher expression in dentate granule cells, CA1 and CA3 pyramidal cells than in hilus neurons. In the hippocampal complex, the NR2C probe signal was not different from background in any region, whereas the NR2D probe signal resulted in low to moderate grain densities. We analyzed NR subunit mRNA expression in the prefrontal, parietal, primary visual, and motor cortices. All areas displayed strong NR1 hybridization signals. NR2A and NR2B mRNAs were expressed in cortical areas and layers. NR2C mRNA was expressed at low levels in distinct layers that differed by region and the NR2D signal was equally moderate throughout all regions. Pyramidal cells in both hippocampus and neocortex express NR1, NR2A, NR2B, and, to a lesser extent, NR2D mRNA. Interneurons or granular layer neurons and some glial cells express NR2C mRNA.