Changes in gastric mucosal thymidine kinase (TK) activity (an indicator of proliferative activity) were examined in young (4 month) and aged (24 month) Fischer-344 male rats 6 h after intragastric administration of either 2 M NaCl (1 ml/130 g b.w.) or an equivalent volume of water (control). These changes were related to the expression of c-myc gene, tyrosine kinase (Tyr-K) activity and tyrosine-specific phosphorylation of proteins in the gastric mucosa. Basal gastric mucosal TK activity (data from the controls) in the aged rats was found to be 75% (P less than 0.001) above the young animals. This was accompanied by increased expression of c-myc gene and a 67% (P less than 0.001) enhancement in Tyr-K activity. Intragastric administration of 2 M NaCl resulted in gastric mucosal damage (as evidenced by lesions index) in both age groups. However, in aged rats, the lesions index was found to be about 75% higher than in their younger counterparts. In young rats, mucosal injury resulted in a 95% rise in TK activity, whereas in aged rats it was increased by only 38%, when compared with corresponding controls. This 2-fold rise in TK activity in young rats was also associated with increased expression of the c-myc gene. In young rats, administration of hypertonic saline caused a 90% (P less than 0.001) increment in Tyr-K activity and significantly stimulated tyrosine-specific phosphorylation of five mucosal proteins with an apparent molecular mass of 170, 120, 100, 55 and 43 kDa. On the other hand, administration of hypertonic saline to the aged rats caused only a small 16% (P less than 0.025) increase in Tyr-K activity, and produced no apparent change in either expression of c-myc gene or tyrosine-specific phosphorylation of any of the proteins in the gastric mucosa, when compared with the corresponding controls. We conclude that aging increases the susceptibility of the gastric mucosa to damaging agents and diminishes its regenerative capacity. We also suggest that Tyr-K may play a role in determining these events.