The influence of centrally administered pentobarbital on [3H]glutamate receptor binding in the rat brain was examined. Animals were rendered tolerant by intracerebroventricular (i.c.v.) infusion through osmotic minipumps with pentobarbital (300 microg/10 microl/h, for 6 days), and dependent, by 24 h after withdrawal from pentobarbital. Pentobarbital tolerant rats have significant increases in [3H]glutamate binding in the cortex and hippocampus area. Pentobarbital withdrawal produced increases in glutamate binding in many regions, e.g., the cortex, hippocampus area, thalamus, and cerebellum. These results show that chronic i.c.v. infusion with pentobarbital increases N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) displaceable [3H]glutamate binding, suggesting that an increase in NMDA binding sites may play an important role in the development of tolerance to and withdrawal from pentobarbital.