The effect of kainic acid (KA) on both electroretinogram (ERG) readings and neurochemical properties of the retina was investigated in rats with emphasis placed upon examination of the events that occur immediately following KA treatment. KA was injected into the eyes of rats with doses of 50 and 200 nmol. One hour after injection, histological alterations became evident. Swelling was observed in the inner and outer plexiform layers. Certain ganglion cells and cells of the inner nuclear layers exhibited pyknotic nuclei. Most of the ganglion cells appeared to have degenerated 48 h following injection, and the form of the outer plexiform layer was incomplete. The amplitude of the b-waves of the ERG decreased 2 h following injection and never recovered. The amplitude of the a-waves was unaffected by KA. The gamma-aminobutyric acid content in the eyecups began to decrease within 1 h and fell to approximately 20% of its original level 24 h following injection. The taurine content in the eyecups was unaffected by KA. The activity of glutamic acid decarboxylase remained unaffected for 2 h after injection, but was reduced to approximately 40% of its original activity by 24 h after injection. A possible explanation for the mechanism by which KA effects degenerative changes in the rat retina is that KA induces release of neurotransmitters through stimulation of neurons, and degeneration in the soma follows.