Alternative splicing generates distinct forms of the NMDA receptor subunit NR1. NR1 subunits with an N-terminal insert (termed N1) form receptors in Xenopus oocytes with greatly reduced potentiation by spermine and Zn2+. Oocytes expressing NR1 receptors with N1 exhibited larger NMDA currents than oocytes expressing corresponding receptors without N1. In the present study, we used mutational analysis to investigate structural features of the N1 insert that control current amplitude and spermine and Zn2+ potentiation. Neutralization of positive charges in N1 rescued spermine and Zn2+ potentiation. Positive charges in N1 did not affect spermine or Zn2+ affinity. Neutralization of positive charges in N1 diminished the responses to the level of NR1 receptors lacking N1. The positively charged N1 may increase NMDA currents by causing a conformational change similar to that produced by spermine and Zn2+ in NR1 receptors lacking N1.