Rats were treated with kainic acid (KA) i.v. to produce increasingly severe limbic seizures that were monitored with a behavioral rating scale. At various times after the induction of seizures, the animals; blood-brain barriers (B-BB) were studied with alpha-[14C]aminoisobutyric acid ([14C]AIBA) autoradiography. Using optical density ratios, a coefficient was devised to assess the functional integrity of the B-BB in discrete anatomic regions and to quantitatively compare these measurements among different groups of experimental animals. In animals that exhibited only mild seizures, the B-BB was not different from controls. Animals with severe limbic seizures, however, showed alterations. For as long as 2 h after delivery of KA, the B-BB appeared normal; from 2 to 24 h, the permeability to [14C]AIBA was markedly increased throughout the brain, especially in limbic regions; from 24 h to 7 days the B-BB returned to normal except for a small residual change in limbic structures. These findings were confirmed with Evans blue dye studies of the B-BB. A correlation between focal accentuation of B-BB alterations and neuropathologic changes was found. These experiments indicted that recurrent limbic seizures may lead to a breakdown in the B-BB independent of systemic metabolic derangements. Marked focal metabolic and electrical changes, however, occurred in several limbic structures several hours before the blood-brain barrier was altered.