Limbic status epilepticus was induced in rats by unilateral 60-min electrical stimulation of the CA3 region of the ventral hippocampus. As assessed by RT-PCR followed by Southern blot analysis, transcripts of interleukin-1beta, interleukin-6, interleukin-1 receptor antagonist and inducible nitric oxide synthase were significantly increased 2 h after status epilepticus in the stimulated hippocampus. Induction was maximal at 6 h for interleukin-1beta (445%), interleukin-6 (405%) and tumour necrosis factor-alpha (264%) and at 24 h for interleukin-1 receptor antagonist (494%) and inducible nitric oxide synthase (432%). In rats with spontaneous seizures (60 days after status epilepticus), interleukin-1beta mRNA was still higher than controls (241%). Immunocytochemical staining of interleukin-1beta, interleukin-6 and tumour necrosis factor-alpha was enhanced in glia with a time-course similar to that of the respective transcripts. Sixty days after status epilepticus, interleukin-1beta immunoreactivity was increased exclusively in neurons in one third of the animals. Multiple intracerebroventricular injections of interleukin-1 receptor antagonist (0.5 microg/3 microL) significantly decreased the severity of behavioural convulsions during electrical stimulation and selectively reduced tumour necrosis factor-alpha content in the hippocampus measured 18 h after status epilepticus. Thus, the induction of spontaneously recurring seizures in rats involves the activation of inflammatory cytokines and related pro- and anti-inflammatory genes in the hippocampus. These changes may play an active role in hyperexcitability of the epileptic tissue.