Facial nerve axotomy is a good model for studying neuronal plasticity and regeneration in the peripheral nervous system. We investigated in the rat the effect of axotomy on the different subunits of excitatory glutamatergic AMPA (GLuR1-4), NMDA (NR1, NR2A-D) receptors, post-synaptic density 95, vesicular glutamate transporter 2, beta catenin and cadherin. mRNA levels and/or protein production were analyzed 1, 3, 8, 30 and 60 days after facial nerve axotomy by in situ hybridization and immunohistofluorescence. mRNAs coding for the GLuR2-4, NR1, NR2A, B, D subunits of glutamatergic receptors and for post-synaptic density 95, were less abundant after axotomy. The decrease began as early as 1 or 3 days after axotomy; the mRNAs levels were lowest 8 days post-lesion, and returned to normal or near normal 60 days after the lesion. The NR2C subunit mRNAs were not detected in either lesioned or intact facial nuclei. Immunohistochemistry using specific antibodies against GLuR2-3 subunits and against NR1 confirmed this down-regulation. There was also a large decrease in vesicular glutamate transporter 2 immunostaining in the axotomized facial nuclei at early stages following facial nerve section. In contrast, no decrease of NR2A subunit and of post-synaptic density 95 could be detected at any time following the lesion. beta Catenin and cadherin immunoreactivity pattern changed around the cell body of facial motoneuron by day 3 after axotomy, and then, tends to recover at day post-lesion 60 days. Therefore, our results suggest a high correlation between restoration of nerve/muscle synaptic contact, synaptic structure and function in facial nuclei. To investigate the mechanisms involved in the change of expression of these proteins following axotomy, the facial nerve was perfused with tetrodotoxin for 8 days. The blockade of action potential significantly decreased GLuR2-3, NR1and NR2A mRNAs in the ipsilateral facial nuclei. Thus, axotomy-induced changes in mRNA abundance seemed to depend partly on disruption of activity.