Young male Fischer-344 rats were fed a diet containing 2% blueberry (BB) extract or control diet for at least 8 weeks and then received bilateral hippocampal injections of kainic acid (KA 200 ng/0.5 microl) or phosphate buffered saline (PBS). One week later rats were trained in one-way active footshock avoidance in a straight runway followed the next day by training in a footshock motivated 14-unit T-maze with documented sensitivity to hippocampal glutamatergic manipulations. Based on analyses of several performance variables, KA-treated rats exhibited clearly impaired learning performance; however, the BB diet significantly reduced this impairment. Supporting the behavioral findings, stereological assessment of CA1 pyramidal neurons documented greater neuronal loss in KA-treated controls compared to KA-treated rats on the BB diet. In an in vitro experiment, FaO cells grown in medium supplemented with serum from BB-fed rats had enhanced viability after exposure to hydrogen peroxide. These findings suggest that BB supplementation may protect against neurodegeneration and cognitive impairment mediated by excitotoxicity and oxidative stress.