Drugs that inhibit RNA or protein synthesis are known to affect some functional properties of axons. In this context, we studied the ultrastructural effects of actinomycin-D, an inhibitor of RNA synthesis, and cycloheximide and emetine, inhibitors of protein synthesis, in rat sural nerves. A silicone sleeve (4 mm long) loaded with drug was placed around the nerves and left for about a week. The ultrastructural alterations of axons and Schwann cells progressed over this period. After cycloheximide and emetine, the cytoplasm of Schwann cells was enlarged and the rough endoplasmic reticulum was prominent. After actinomycin-D, the Schwann cells reached the stage of lysis. Nonmedullated were more affected than myelinated axons. After cycloheximide and emetine, the axoplasmic matrix decreased substantially but reversibly. Microtubules of nonmedullated fibres decreased by about 50%. Actinomycin-D determined sprouting of axons and a rise of axonal microtubules; in nonmedullated axons, the normal inverse correlation between microtubular density and calibre gave way to a high and constant density for all axonal sizes. A few millimetres proximal and distal to the sleeve, the nerve tissue and the axonal microtubular content were close to normal, i.e. the effects of drugs were local. Present results suggest that the local turnover of amino acids in the axon is necessary to maintain the integrity of microtubule and neurofilament proteins. We propose that the Schwann cell down-regulates the axonal cytomatrix.