Treatments for Parkinson's disease based on replacement of lost dopamine have several problems. Following loss of dopamine, enhanced N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor-mediated transmission in the striatum is thought to be part of the cascade of events leading to the generation of parkinsonian symptoms. We determined the localisation and pharmacological characteristics of NMDA receptors that play a role in generating parkinsonian symptoms within the striatum. Rats were lesioned unilaterally with 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA), and cannulae implanted bilaterally to allow injection of a range of NMDA receptor antagonists at different striatal sites. When injected rostrally into the dopamine-depleted striatum, the glycine site partial agonist, (+)-HA-966 (44–400 nmol) caused a dose-dependent contraversive rotational response consistent with an antiparkinsonian action. (+)-HA-966 (400 nmol) had no effect when infused into more caudal regions of the dopamine-depleted striatum, or following injection into any striatal region on the dopamine-intact side. To determine the pharmacological profile of NMDA receptors involved in inducing parkinsonism in 6-OHDA-lesioned rats, a range of NMDA receptor antagonists was infused directly into the rostral striatum. Ifenprodil (100 nmol) and 7-chlorokynurenate (37 nmol), but not MK-801 (15 nmol) or D-APV (25 nmol) elicited a dramatic rotational response when injected into the dopamine-depleted striatum. This pharmacological profile is not consistent with an effect mediated via blocking NR2B-containing NMDA receptors. The effect of intrastriatal injection of ifenprodil was increased in animals previously treated with levodopa (L-dopa) methyl ester. This was seen as an increase in on-time and in peak rotational response. We propose that stimulation of NR2B-containing NMDA receptors in the rostral striatum underlies the generation of parkinsonian symptoms. These studies are in line with previous findings suggesting that administration of NR2B-selective NMDA receptor antagonists may be therapeutically beneficial for parkinsonian patients, when given de novo and following L-dopa treatment. © 2002 Movement Disorder Society.