Acute seizures and other stimuli that increase neuronal activity cause a rapid induction of the immediate-early genes c-fos and c-jun, also referred to as nuclear proto-oncogenes, in the nervous system. In the present study, rats were administered one or more electroconvulsive seizures (ECS) and the responsiveness of c-fos and c-jun to an acute, "test" seizure was examined. Four hours after a single ECS, the induction of c-fos mRNA by a test seizure was blocked, in agreement with earlier findings, but by 18 h the levels of c-fos mRNA could be reinduced by the test seizure, suggesting that 1 day is sufficient to "reset" the responsiveness of this system. However, it was found that chronic, daily ECS treatments resulted in a time-dependent decrease in the expression of c-fos mRNA in response to a test seizure administered 18 h after the last daily ECS; this effect was maximal after 8-10 days of treatment, at which time the induction of c-fos mRNA by the test seizure was blocked dramatically. Chronic ECS also blocked the induction of c-jun in response to an acute, test seizure. The effect of chronic ECS on levels of Fos protein was also investigated. It was found that basal levels of Fos protein were reduced after chronic (10 days) ECS and were not induced by a test seizure. Because levels of Fos protein remain elevated 4 h after a single seizure this finding suggests that the mechanisms by which acute (4 h) and chronic (8-10 days) ECS block the induction of c-fos may differ.