Hippocampal slices of newborn rats were exposed to either heat-inactivated Streptococcus pneumoniae R6 (hiR6) equivalent to 10(6) and 10(8) CFU/ml, lipoteichoic acid (LTA) (0.3 microg/ml and 30 microg/ml), peptidoglycans (PG) (0.3, 30, 50 and 100 microg/ml), pneumococcal DNA (pDNA) (0.3 and 30 microg/ml) or medium only (control). Cell injury was examined by Nissl staining, Annexin V and NeuN immunohistochemistry, and quantified by propidium iodide (PI) uptake and by determining neuron-specific enolase (NSE) concentration in the culture medium. Necrotic and apoptotic cell damage occurred in all treatment groups. Overall damage (Nissl and PI staining) was most prominent after hiR6 (10(8) CFU/ml), followed by LTA (30 microg/ml), pDNA (30 microg/ml), and not detectable after PG (30 microg/ml) exposure. PG (100 microg/ml) induced severe damage. Apoptotic cells were most frequent after exposure to LTA and hiR6. Damage in the neuronal cell layers (NeuN, NSE) was most severe after treatment with hiR6 (10(8) CFU/ml), followed by PG (100 microg/ml), pDNA (30 microg/ml), and LTA (30 microg/ml).