Chronic stress causes atrophy of the apical dendrites of CA3 pyramidal neurons and deficits in spatial memory. We investigated the effects of chronic stress on hippocampal physiology and long-term potentiation (LTP) in the CA3 and dentate gyrus (DG). Rats were subjected to chronic (21 days, 6 h/day) restraint stress and tested for LTP 48 h following the last stress episode. Control animals were briefly handled each day, similar to the experimental group but without restraint. To eliminate acute stress effects, a second control group of rats was subjected to a single acute (6 h) restraint stress and tested for LTP 48 h later. Field potential recordings were made, under chloropent anesthesia, from the stratum lucidum of CA3, with stimulation of either the mossy fiber or commissural/associational pathways, or in the DG granule-cell layer, with stimulation of the medial perforant pathway. Chronic stress produced a suppression of LTP at 48 h compared to controls in a site-specific manner, namely, significantly lower LTP in the medial perforant input to the DG and also in the commissural/associational input to the CA3, but not in the mossy fiber input to CA3. The animals subjected to acute stress and tested 48 h later did not show a suppression in LTP. High-frequency stimulation (HFS) of the commissural/associational and mossy fiber inputs to CA3 produced epileptic afterdischarges in 56% of acutely stressed animals and in 29% of chronically stressed animals, whereas HFS caused afterdischarges in only 9% of nonstressed controls. No afterdischarges were seen in the medial perforant path input to DG. In order to explore the basis for these changes, we performed paired-pulse inhibition/facilitation (PPI/F) and current-source-density (CSD) analysis in stressed and control animals. For PPI/F, acute stress caused an overall significant enhancement of excitation in the commissural/associational input to CA3 and medial perforant path input to DG. In contrast, chronic stress did not produce significant changes in PPI/F. The CSD analysis revealed significant chronic stress-induced shifts in the current sources and sinks in the apical dendrites and pyramidal cell layers of the CA3 field but not in the DG. These results are consistent with the morphological findings for stress effects upon dendrites of CA3 neurons. Furthermore, they suggest that chronic stress produces changes in the input-output relationship in the hippocampal trisynaptic circuit which could affect information flow through this structure.