Intrahippocampal injection of 1 nmol ouabain, a sodium/potassium (Na+,K(+)-)ATPase inhibitor, produced a necrotic lesion within 4 days, characterised by a massive invasion by foaming macrophages. A lower dose of ouabain (0.1 nmol) produced a more discrete lesion of all groups of neuronal perikarya in the hippocampus, with only a minimal degree of glial infiltration. The neuronal perikaryal death produced in the subicular, CA1 and CA2 regions was only partially decreased by intraperitoneal injections of the anticonvulsants diazepam and MK-801; these drugs were without effect in the CA3 or hilar interneuronal regions. At neither dose of ouabain was there any indication of neuronal loss in brain regions outside the hippocampus, typically produced by prolonged seizure activity. It is suggested that ouabain has a two-fold action, a release of toxic acidic amino acids and a prolonged depolarization of neurons leading to osmolysis or calcium necrosis.