Ammonia is considered to be the main agent responsible for hepatic encephalopathy which progressively leads to altered mental status. N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) is an ionotropic glutamate receptor, which is involved in synaptogenesis, memory and neurotoxicity. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of ammonia intoxication and allopurinol, a xanthine oxidase (XO) inhibitor, on NMDA receptor subunits, NR2A and NR2B, in the hippocampus of rats. Thirty-six male rats were divided into three groups (n = 12/group) as follows: (1)control group (phosphate buffered saline (PBS) solution); (2)ammonia group (ammonium acetate, 2.5 mmol/kg), (3)ammonia + allopurinol group (ammonium acetate, 2.5 mmol/kg, allopurinol, 50 mg/kg). Each rat received intraperitoneal injection for 28 days. Western Blotting technique was used for detecting NR2A and NR2B expressions. Both NR2A and NR2B subunit expressions decreased 27 and 11%, respectively, in ammonia group with respect to the control group. Ammonium acetate decreased significantly in NR2A subunit expressions in the hippocampus (p < 0.01). Administration of ammonia + allopurinol caused statistically significant increases in NR2A subunit expressions compared to the ammonia group (p < 0.001). The down-regulation of NMDA receptors caused by ammonium acetate suggest that these receptors may play role in the process of hepatic encephalopathy and using allopurinol may have some protective effects in ammonia toxicity. Copyright (C) 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.