Transected fibres of the adult rat postcommissural fornix sprout over short distances but fail to traverse the lesion site and terminate in close vicinity to the wound. As a step in defining the molecular environment responsible for regeneration failure at the lesion site, we have used immunocytochemistry to analyse the spatio-temporal expression pattern of two putative growth-inhibitory extracellular matrix components, tenascin and chondroitin sulphate proteoglycans and their topographical relationship to the sprouting axons. Both tenascin and chondroitin sulphate proteoglycan labelling appeared after fornix transection and were confined to the immediate vicinity of the lesion site. While tenascin-labelling was associated with astrocytes and microglia/macrophages, which accumulate preferentially at the tract borders, chondroitin sulphate proteoglycan labelling appeared as a homogeneous meshwork around the wound. Tenascin-like immunoreactivity disappeared between 17 days and 4 weeks, but chondroitin sulphate proteoglycan staining persisted at least up to 14 months after transection. Regrowing fornix fibres invaded and elongated within the chondroitin sulphate proteoglycan-immunopositive region up to the lesion site, where they terminated. This zone of axonal growth inhibition was neither characterized by an increase of chondroitin sulphate proteoglycan immunoreactivity nor by the presence of tenascin-immunopositive structures. The spatio-temporal distribution patterns of tenascin and chondroitin sulphate proteoglycan and the permeability of the chondroitin sulphate proteoglycan-immunopositive region for sprouting axons do not support the hypothesis that chondroitin sulphate proteoglycan alone and/or tenascin inhibit the advance of sprouting fornix fibres.