The aim of this study was to investigate the possible role of N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA)-receptor overactivity in two different experimental rat models of encephalopathy: subacute encephalopathy caused by severe hyperammonemia in portacaval-shunted rats (AI-PCS rats) and acute hepatic encephalopathy caused by complete liver ischemia (LIS rats). The effect of the noncompetitive NMDA-receptor antagonist memantine (intraperitoneal [i.p.] 10-20 mg/kg bw or intravenous [i.v.] 5 mg/kg bw) was studied on the severity of encephalopathy by assessment of clinical grading and electroencephalogram (EEG) spectral analysis, on plasma ammonia concentrations, amino acid concentrations in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), intracranial pressure (ICP), and brain water content. Both rat models developed encephalopathy within 3 to 6 hours, associated with increased CSF glutamate and aspartate concentrations and increased ICP and brain water content. Memantine administration in AI-PCS and LIS rats resulted in a significant improvement in clinical grading and less slowing of EEG activity (P < .05), and smaller increases in CSF glutamate (P < .05) concentrations. Moreover, ICP and brain water content were significantly lower in memantine-treated AI-PCS rats than in untreated AI-PCS rats (P < .05). Memantine had no significant effect on ICP and brain water content in LIS rats, and on ammonia concentrations in both models. These results indicate that NMDA- receptor activation might be involved in the pathogenesis of hyperammonemia-induced encephalopathy and of acute hepatic encephalopathy caused by LIS.