N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptors represent a major subtype of excitatory amino acid receptors in the mammalian brain. In addition to their physiological role, NMDA receptors have been linked to the occurrence of nerve cell death in several neurodegenerataive diseases. The hamster neurotropic (HNT) strain of measles virus causes non-inflammatory encephalopathy in mice. This is associated with neuronal loss in areas CA1 and CA3 of the hippocampus. Systemic treatment with the non-competitive NMDA receptor antagonist 5-methyl-10,11-dihydro-5H-dibenzo(a,d)cyclo-hepten-5,10-imine maleate (MK-801) prevented this cellular necrosis. Thus, a virus may have indirect neurodegenerative effects in the brain due to activation of NMDA receptors.