Hypothalamo-neurohypophysial magnocellular neurons display specific electrical activities in relation to the mode of release of their hormonal content (vasopressin or oxytocin). These activities are under strong glutamatergic excitatory control. The implication of NMDA receptors in the control of vasopressinergic and oxytocinergic neurons is still a matter of debate. We here report the first detailed characterization of functional properties of NMDA receptors in voltage-clamped magnocellular neurons acutely dissociated from the supraoptic nucleus. All cells responded to NMDA with currents that reversed polarity around 0 mV and were inhibited by D-2-amino-5-phosphonovalerate (d-APV) and by 100 μM extracellular Mg2+ (at -80 mV). Sensitivity to the co-agonist glycine (EC50, 2 μM) was low compared with most other neuronal preparations. The receptors displayed low sensitivity to ifenprodil, were insensitive to glycine-independent potentiation by spermine, and had a unitary conductance of 50 pS. No evidence was found for two distinct cell populations, suggesting that oxytocinergic and vasopressinergic neurons express similar NMDA receptors. Characterization of NMDA receptors at different postnatal ages revealed a transient increase in density of NMDA currents during the second postnatal week. This was accompanied by a specific decrease in sensitivity to d-APV, with no change in NMDA sensitivity or any other properties studied. Supraoptic NMDA receptors thus present characteristics that strikingly resemble those of reconstituted receptors composed of NR1 and NR2A subunits. Understanding the functional significance of the development of NMDA receptors in the supraoptic nucleus will require further knowledge about the maturation of neuronal excitability, synaptic connections and neurohormone release mechanisms.