Young adult rats were unilaterally bulbectomized and tritiated thymidine ([3H]TdR) was injected at variable times following surgery to determine the effect of bulbectomy on the rates of cell proliferation and cell death in the olfactory epithelium. Removal of the olfactory bulb elicits a two- to fourfold increase in the proliferation rate of ipsilateral olfactory epithelial cells 7-50 days following surgery. On the contralateral side, there was a temporary twofold increase in the proliferation rate during the second week after surgery, but this returned to control values at 3 weeks. This temporary increase was in parallel with the response on the ipsilateral side so that the ratio between operated and unoperated sides remained at two. Cell death in olfactory epithelium is also up-regulated following bulbectomy. Death of cells can occur as early as 1 day following incorporation of [3H]TdR, i.e., well before the sensory neurons become mature. This means there is an over-production of sensory cells, and they die at all stages of their life cycle. The number of cells dying is greater after bulbectomy, indicating that the overproduction of olfactory cells is more pronounced after surgery.