Changes in levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), nerve growth factor (NGF) and neurotrophin-3 (NT-3) in various regions of the rat brain following kainic acid-induced seizure activity were investigated. BDNF protein, as measured by a two-site enzyme immunoassay, increased transiently 12-24 h after the intraperitoneal administration of kainic acid to 61.6 ng/g wet weight in the hippocampus (approximately 10-fold increase), 19.5 ng/g in the piriform plus entorhinal cortex (approximately 10-fold) and 8.2 ng/g in the olfactory bulb (approximately 16-fold), and then rapidly decreased. Increases of 2- to 4-fold in levels of BDNF were also detected in the septum, cerebral cortex, striatum and hypothalamus, but not in the cerebellum. In contrast, levels of NGF and NT-3 decreased 24 h after the administration of kainic acid. Western and Northern blotting analyses of hippocampal tissues, respectively, revealed increase in levels of a 14-kDa protein corresponding to BDNF and its mRNA at both 4.2 and 1.4 kb. Hippocampal mRNAs for NGF and NT-3 increased and decreased, respectively, in kainic acid-treated rats. Immunohistological investigations showed that, in the hippocampus, the administration of kainic acid enhanced a homogeneous immunoreactivity of BDNF in the polymorph inner layer (the stratum radiatum of the CA3/CA4 regions and the hilar region) and in granule cells of the dentate gyrus. BDNF protein was found in neurons, but not at all in glial cells or in blood vessels, and was localized in the cytoplasm, the nucleoplasm and the primary dendrites of neurons as well as in perisynaptic extracellular spaces, but hardly in their axons. Our results show that kainic acid treatment increases levels of BDNF, but not NGF or NT-3, in various regions of the rat brain, other than the cerebellum. Also, the majority of BDNF newly synthesized by hippocampal granule neurons is secreted into the perisynaptic extracellular space in the polymorph inner layer of the dentate gyrus, supporting an autocrine-like role for the factor in synaptic functions.