Human mesial temporal lobe epilepsy is characterized by hippocampal seizures associated with pyramidal cell loss in the hippocampus and dispersion of dentate gyrus granule cells. A similar histological pattern was recently described in a model of extensive neuroplasticity in adult mice after injection of kainate into the dorsal hippocampus [Suzuki et al. (1995) Neuroscience 64, 665-674]. The aim of the present study was to determine whether (i) recurrent seizures develop in mice after intrahippocampal injection of kainate, and (ii) the electroencephalographic, histopathological and behavioural changes in such mice are similar to those in human mesial temporal lobe epilepsy. Adult mice receiving a unilateral injection of kainate (0.2 microg; 50 nl) or saline into the dorsal hippocampus displayed recurrent paroxysmal discharges on the electroencephalographic recordings associated with immobility, staring and, occasionally, clonic components. These seizures started immediately after kainate injection and recurrid for up to eight months. Epileptiform activities occurred most often during sleep but occasionally while awake. The pattern of seizures did not change over time nor did they secondarily generalize. Glucose metabolic changes assessed by [14C]2-deoxyglucose autoradiography were restricted to the ipsilateral hippocampus for 30 days, but had spread to the thalamus by 120 days after kainate. Ipsilateral cell loss was prominent in hippocampal pyramidal cells and hilar neurons. An unusual pattern of progressive enlargement of the dentate gyrus was observed with a marked radial dispersion of the granule cells associated with reactive astrocytes. Mossy fibre sprouting occurred both in the supragranular molecular layer and infrapyramidal stratum oriens layer of CA3. The expression of the embryonic form of the neural cell adhesion molecule coincided over time with granule cell dispersion. Our data describe the first histological, electrophysiological and behavioural evidence suggesting that discrete excitotoxic lesions of the hippocampus in mice can be used as an isomorphic model of mesial temporal lobe epilepsy.