Hypothalamic magnocellular dorsal nucleus neurons were recorded from adult guinea pig brain slices with the whole-cell patch-clamp technique to determine the effects of N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) applied in the bath or by iontophoresis. In a majority of cells (59 of 77, 76.6%), rhythmic bursting discharges were evoked by specific activation of NMDA receptors when the membrane was more negative than −60 mV. This endogenous rhythmic activity was resistant to tetrodotoxin. It was suppressed by removal of extracellular Mg2+, indicating the involvement of the voltage-dependent block of the NMDA channel by Mg2+. Application of thapsigargin showed that rhythmic activity did not depend on the release of Ca2+ from reticulum stores. Blockers of Ca2+ conductances Ni2+ and nifedipine had no effects on the bursts. Their repolarization did not involve the activation of a strophantidin- or ouabain-sensitive pump, but partly depended on an apamine-sensitive Ca2+-dependent K+current. In a small subset of cells (9 of 69, 13%), specific activation of NMDA receptors induced another type of bursting activity which consisted of repetitive low-threshold spikes sustaining bursts of action potentials. Rhythmic low-threshold spikes subsisted in the presence of tetrodotoxin but were suppressed by Ni2+. Increasing the amount of NMDA brought about a switch from the rhythmic low-threshold spike burst firing to the rhythmic bursting activity observed for the majority of cells. The present data show for the first time that NMDA receptor activation can induce two independent rhythmic bursting behaviours in the same neuron, probably depending on the strength of the glutamatergic drive.