Chronic stress has been shown to induce time-dependent neurodegeneration in the hippocampus, ranging from a reversible damage to a permanent neuronal loss. This damage has been proposed to impair cognitive function in hippocampus-dependent learning tasks. In this study, we have used a 21-day restraint stress procedure in rats, previously reported to induce reversible atrophy of apical dendrites of CA3 pyramidal cells, to assess whether it may influence subsequent performance in the contextual fear conditioning task under experimental conditions involving high stress levels (1 mA shock intensity as the unconditioned stimulus). In addition, we were interested in the study of the possible cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in the reversible phase of neural damage. Cell adhesion molecules of the immunoglobulin superfamily, such as the neural cell adhesion molecule and L1, are cell-surface macromolecules that, through their recognition and adhesion properties, regulate cell-cell interactions and have been reported to play a key role in cognitive functioning. A second aim of this study was to evaluate whether chronic stress would modulate the expression of the neural cell adhesion molecule, its polysialylation, and L1 in the hippocampus. The results showed that chronic stress facilitated subsequent contextual fear conditioning. They also showed that chronically stressed rats displayed reduced hippocampal neural cell adhesion molecule, but increased polysialylated expression as well as a trend towards exhibiting increased L1 expression. In summary, these results support the view that a 21-day chronic stress regimen predisposes individuals to develop enhanced contextual fear conditioning responses. They also indicate that cell adhesion molecules might play a role in the structural remodelling that occurs in the hippocampus as a consequence of chronic stress exposure.