Hyperammonemia is responsible for most neurological alterations in patients with hepatic encephalopathy by mechanisms that remain unclear. Hyperammonemia alters phosphorylation of neuronal protein kinase C (PKC) substrates and impairs NMDA receptor-associated signal transduction. The aim of this work was to analyse the effects of hyperammonemia on the amount and intracellular distribution of PKC isoforms and on translocation of each isoform induced by NMDA receptor activation in cerebellar neurons. Chronic hyperammonemia alters differentially the intracellular distribution of PKC isoforms. The amount of all isoforms (except PKC zeta) was reduced (17-50%) in the particulate fraction. The contents of alpha, beta1, and epsilon isoforms decreased similarly in cytosol (65-78%) and membranes (66-83%), whereas gamma, delta, and theta isoforms increased in cytosol but decreased in membranes, and zeta isoform increased in membranes and decreased in cytosol. Chronic hyperammonemia also affects differentially NMDA-induced translocation of PKC isoforms. NMDA-induced translocation of PKC alpha and beta is prevented by ammonia, whereas PKC gamma, delta, epsilon, or theta translocation is not affected. Inhibition of phospholipase C did not affect PKC alpha translocation but reduced significantly PKC gamma translocation, indicating that NMDA-induced translocation of PKC alpha is mediated by Ca2+, whereas PKC gamma translocation is mediated by diacylglycerol. Chronic hyperammonemia reduces Ca+2-mediated but not diacylglycerol-mediated translocation of PKC isoforms induced by NMDA.