Lithium is known to potentiate the ability of pilocarpine to induce status epilepticus in rats. The goal of this study was to determine whether lithium could potentiate pilocarpine-induced seizures in developing animals. Behavioral, electroencephalographic (EEG), and histopathological changes induced by systemic administration of lithium (3 meq/kg) followed 20 h later by pilocarpine (3, 10, 30, 60 mg/kg) were studied in 3-30-day-old rats. Lithium followed by pilocarpine (30 and 60 mg/kg) induced hyperactivity, tremor, loss of postural control and scratching but no electrographic seizures in 3-8-day-old rats. In the 7-10-day-old animals pretreatment with lithium and pilocarpine 60 mg/kg induced status epilepticus with sustained myoclonus and continuous bilateral synchronous spike and sharp wave, but doses of pilocarpine lower than 60 mg/kg had no effect. The susceptibility to lithium-pilocarpine-induced status epilepticus increased markedly during the third postnatal week of life. During this time period, rats treated with lithium (3 meq/kg) plus pilocarpine 10 mg/kg exhibited behavioral and EEG manifestations of status epilepticus. The same combination of lithium and pilocarpine failed to induce status epilepticus either before or after the third week of life. Histopathological analysis of the brains of the animals used in these studies failed to demonstrate the widespread damage reported in adult rats that have undergone lithium-pilocarpine-induced status epilepticus.