CRH, the primary regulator of the neuroendocrine responses to stress, has been shown to modulate synaptic efficacy and the process of learning and memory in hippocampus. However, effects of CRH on N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptor, the key receptor for synaptic plasticity, remain unclear. In primary cultured hippocampal neurons, using the technique of whole-cell patch-clamp recordings, we found that CRH (1 pmol/liter to 10 nmol/liter) inhibited NMDA-induced currents in a dose-dependent manner. This effect was reversed by the CRH receptor type 1 (CRHR1) antagonist antalarmin but not by the CRHR2 antagonist astressin-2B, suggesting that CRHR1 mediated the inhibitory effect of CRH. Investigations on the signaling pathways of CRH showed that CRH dose-dependently induced phosphorylated phospholipase C (PLC)-β3 expression and increased intracellular cAMP content in these cells. Blocking PLC activity with U73122 prevented CRH-induced depression of NMDA current, whereas blocking protein kinase A (H89) and adenylate cyclase (SQ22536) failed to affect the CRH-induced depression of NMDA current. Application of inositol-1,4,5-triphosphate receptor (IP3R) antagonist, Ca2+ chelators or protein kinase C (PKC) inhibitors also mainly blocked CRH-induced depression of NMDA currents, suggesting involvement of PLC/IP3R/Ca2+and PLC/PKC signaling pathways in CRH down-regulation of NMDA receptors. Our results suggest that CRH may exert neuromodulatory actions on hippocampus through regulating NMDA receptor function.