Effects of continuous pentobarbital administration on binding characteristics of [3H]MK-801 in the rat brain were examined by autoradiography. Animals were rendered tolerant to pentobarbital using i.c.v. infusion of pentobarbital (300μg/10μl/hr for 7 days) by osmotic minipumps and dependent by abrupt withdrawal from pentobarbital. The levels of [3H]MK- 801 binding were elevated in rats 24-hr after withdrawal from pentobarbital while there were no changes except in septum and anterior ventral nuclei in tolerant rats. For assessing the role of NMDA receptor in barbiturate action, an NMDA receptor antagonist (MK-801, 2.7 femto g/10μ1/hr) was co-infused with pentobarbital. The pentobarbital-infused group had a shorter duration of pentobarbital-induced loss of righting reflex (sleeping time) than that of the control group, and MK-801 alone did not affect the righting reflex. However, co-infusion of MK-801 blocked hyperthermia, and prolonged the onset of convulsions induced by t-butylbicyclophosphorothionate (TBPS) in pentobarbital withdrawal rats. In addition, elevated [35S]TBPS binding was significantly attenuated by co-infusion with MK801. These results suggest the involvement of NMDA receptor up-regulation in pentobarbital withdrawal and that the development of dependence can be attenuated by the treatment of subtoxic dose of MK-801.