Recent neurophysiological data have suggested an interaction of ethanol (EtOH) with the glutamate-NMDA receptor complex. For instance, low levels of alcohol have been found to inhibit the ion current, activated by NMDA in in vitro preparations. The present study extends these paradigms in order to evaluate the electrophysiological effects of ethanol and the nonspecific NMDA receptor antagonist, dizocilpine (MK-801) in awake, conscious rats. Twenty Wistar rats were stereotaxically implanted with electrodes, aimed at dorsal hippocampus, amygdala, thalamus and frontal cortex. Rats received the following drugs: saline (s.c.), 0.01 and 0.1 mg/kg MK-801 (s.c.); EtOH, 0.75 g/kg (i.p.); 0.75 kg EtOH plus 0.01 mg/kg MK-801; 0.75 g/kg EtOH plus 0.10 mg/kg MK-801. Five minutes of EEG was collected and event-related potentials (ERPs) recorded in response to an auditory "oddball" paradigm. Spectral analysis revealed that MK-801 (0.1 m/kg) produced significant increases in low frequency EEG components, at all sites (1-6 Hz) and decreases in higher frequencies (16-32 Hz). Whereas ethanol (0.75 g/kg) produced decreases in power in all frequency bands. The combined administration of EtOH and MK-801 produced some antagonistic effects on the EEG in the low frequency range. Evaluation of ERPs revealed that MK-801 (0.1 mg/kg) produced significant decreases in amplitude of the N1 and P2 components in the cortex, decreases in the P1 and N2 in the thalamus and a profound decrease in the P3 components in hippocampus and amygdala. Ethanol was also found to produce decreases in the N1 component in cortex. The administration of MK-801 and ethanol together did not produce significant interactions on ERPs. These studies suggest that antagonism of the NMDA receptor by MK-801 may produce some effects similar to those of ethanol, however, their combined administration did not produce synergistic effects within these dose ranges.