A dysfunction of noradrenergic mechanisms originating in the locus coeruleus has been hypothesised to be the critical factor underlying the evolution of central neurodegenerative diseases [Colpaert FC (1994) Noradrenergic mechanism Parkinson's disease: a theory. In: Noradrenergic mechanisms in Parkinson's disease (Briley M, Marien M, eds) pp 225-254. Boca Raton, FL, USA: CRC Press Inc.]. alpha(2)-Adrenoceptor antagonists, presumably in part by facilitating central noradrenergic transmission, afford neuroprotection in vivo in models of cerebral ischaemia, excitotoxicity and devascularization-induced neurodegeneration. The present study utilised the rat olfactory bulb as a model system for examining the effects of the selective alpha(2)-adrenoceptor antagonist dexefaroxan upon determinants of neurogenesis (proliferation, survival and death) in the adult brain in vivo. Cell proliferation (5-bromo-2'-deoxyuridine labelling) and cell death associated with DNA fragmentation (terminal dideoxynucleotidyl transferase-catalysed 2'-deoxyuridine-5'-triphosphate nick end-labelling assay) were quantified following a 7-day treatment with either vehicle or dexefaroxan (0.63 mg/kg i.p., three times daily), followed by a 3-day washout period. The number of terminal dideoxynucleotidyl transferase-catalysed 2'-deoxyuridine-5'-triphosphate nick end-labelling-positive nuclei in the olfactory bulb was lower in dexefaroxan-treated rats, this difference being greatest and significant in the subependymal layer (-52%). In contrast, 5-bromo-2'-deoxyuridine-immunoreactive nuclei were more numerous (+68%) in the bulbs of dexefaroxan-treated rats whilst no differences were detected in the proliferating region of the subventricular zone. Terminal dideoxynucleotidyl transferase-catalysed 2'-deoxyuridine-5'-triphosphate nick end-labelling combination with glial fibrillary acidic protein or neuronal-specific antigen immunohistochemistry revealed that terminal dideoxynucleotidyl transferase-catalysed 2'-deoxyuridine-5'-triphosphate nick end-labelling-positive nuclei were associated primarily with a neuronal cell phenotype. These findings suggest that dexefaroxan increases neuron survival in the olfactory bulb of the adult rat in vivo, putatively as a result of reducing the apoptotic fate of telencephalic stem cell progenies.