N-Methyl-D-aspartate(NMDA) receptors mediate increases in intracellular calcium that can be modulated by protein kinase C (PKC). As PKC modulation of NMDA receptors in neurons is complex, we studied the effects of PKC activation on recombinant NMDA receptor-mediated calcium rises in a nonneuronal mammalian cell line, human embryonic kidney 293 (HEK-293). Phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA) pretreatment of HEK-293 cells enhanced or suppressed NMDA receptor-mediated calcium rises based on the NMDA receptor subunit composition. NR2A or NR2B, in combination with NR1011, conveyed enhancement whereas NR2C and NR2D conveyed suppression. The PKC inhibitor bisindolylmaleimide blocked each of these effects. The region on NR2A that conveyed enhancement localized to a discrete segment of the C terminus distal to the portion of NR2C that is homologous to NR2A. Calcium-45 accumulation, but not intracellular calcium store depletion, matched PMA effects on NMDA receptor-mediated calcium changes, suggesting that these effects were not due to effects on intracellular calcium stores. The suppression of intracellular calcium transients seen with NR2C was eliminated when combined with NR1 splice variants lacking C-terminal cassette 1. Thus, the intracellular calcium effects of PMA were distinguishable based on both the NR1 splice variant and the NR2 subunit type that were expressed. Such differential effects resemble the diversity of PKC effects on NMDA receptors in neurons.