To elucidate the relationship between stress and seizures, the effect of a single swim stress on the convulsive signs and death produced by several GABA-related and GABA-unrelated convulsants, and the effect of repeated swim stress on picrotoxin-induced convulsions was studied. Mice were subjected to swim stress (10 min swimming at 18-19 degrees C), and the i.v. infusion of convulsants started 15 min thereafter. The latency to the onset of several convulsant signs and death was measured, and the doses of convulsants producing convulsions and death were calculated. Additional experiments included mice swimming at room temperature, and those which were stressed repeatedly (twice a day for four consecutive days, plus one stressful procedure on the fifth day). Swim stress increased the dose needed to produce convulsant signs and death after bicuculline, picrotoxin, pentylenetetrazole, strychnine and 4-aminopyridine, while kainic acid-induced convulsions were not affected. Using picrotoxin infusion, the effect of swimming in room temperature water was less than the effect of swimming in 18-19 degrees C water. In addition, the effect of repeated stress was less than the effect of acute stress on picrotoxin-induced convulsions. The results demonstrate that acute swim stress lowers the convulsive potency of GABA-related and some GABA-unrelated convulsants. Repeatedly stressed animals develop tolerance to anticonvulsive effect of swim stress.