Abstract Preclinical and clinical evidence implicates a role for endogenous apolipoprotein E in modifying the response of the brain to focal and global ischemia. To investigate whether apoE modulates the neuronal response to glutamate excitotoxicity, we exposed primary neuronal glial cultures and a neuronal cell line to biologically relevant concentrations of apolipoprotein E prior to NMDA exposure. In both of these paradigms, apolipoprotein E exerted partial protective effects. At neuroprotective concentrations, however, apolipoprotein E failed to block NMDA-induced calcium influx to the same magnitude as the NMDA receptor antagonist MK-801. These results suggest that one mechanism by which apolipoprotein E modifies the central nervous system response to ischemia may be by reducing glutamate-induced excitotoxicity.