Rats were given bilateral injections of colchicine into the dorsal and ventral hippocampus. Behavioral, neurochemical and histopathological measurements were taken, up to 12 weeks after surgery. Colchicine produced a consistent increase in spontaneous motor activity, enhanced acoustic startle reactivity, and accelerated acquisition of two-way shuttle box avoidance, but did not affect reactivity to a noxious thermal stimulus. Measurement of dynorphin in the hippocampus indicated that colchicine rapidly depleted this neuropeptide, which is thought to be contained preferentially in the mossy fibers of granule cells of the hippocampus. Colchicine also decreased Met-enkephalin in the hippocampus, but the magnitude of the change (22%) was less than that (89% depletion) observed for hippocampal dynorphin. Examination of hippocampal morphology using light microscopic techniques indicated that colchicine caused approximately 60% degeneration of granule cells in the hippocampus. Although the length of the pyramidal cells was decreased (12-16%), the width of the CA1 and CA3 region of the hippocampus was not affected. These data underscore the importance of the granule cells in the mediation of behavioral processes such as motor activity, startle reactivity and performance of shuttle box avoidance.