Activation of NMDA receptors leads to activation of cAMP-dependent protein kinase (PKA). The main substrates phosphorylated by PKA following NMDA receptor activation remain unidentified. The aim of this work was to identify a major substrate phosphorylated by PKA following NMDA receptor activation in cerebellar neurones in culture, and to assess whether this phosphorylation may be involved in neuronal death induced by excessive NMDA receptor activation. The main PKA substrate following NMDA receptor activation was identified by MALDI-TOFF fingerprinting as the nuclear protein, matrin 3. PKA-mediated phosphorylation of matrin 3 is followed by its degradation. NMDA receptor activation in rat brain in vivo by ammonia injection also induced PKA-mediated matrin 3 phosphorylation and degradation in brain cell nuclei. Blocking NMDA receptors in brain in vivo with MK-801 reduced basal phosphorylation of matrin 3, suggesting that it is modulated by NMDA receptors. Inhibition of PKA with H-89 prevents NMDA-induced phosphorylation and degradation of matrin 3 as well as neuronal death. These results suggest that PKA-mediated phosphorylation of matrin 3 may serve as a rapid way of transferring information from synapses containing NMDA receptors to neuronal nuclei under physiological conditions, and may contribute to neuronal death under pathological conditions.