Mature DBA/2J (D2) and C57BL/6J (B6) mice aged 9-10 weeks were studied to determine susceptibility to behavioral seizures induced by kainic acid (KA) and the possible influence exerted by differences in metabolism and blood-brain barrier (BBB) transport. Mice were observed for 4 h after subcutaneous (s.c.) KA injection. Behavioral seizure parameters included latency to first seizure (clonus), latency to tonic/clonic seizure, and latency to status epilepticus (SE). At a KA dose of 25 mg/kg, 80% of D2 mice exhibited tonic/clonic seizures, whereas all B6 mice remained seizure-free. At 30 mg/kg, tonic/clonic seizures were observed in 100% of D2 mice and 25% of B6 mice. Of D2 mice exhibiting at least one clonic seizure in response to KA at a dose of 25 mg/kg, 50% entered SE and eventually died. Administration of [3H]KA (6.6 x 10(6) dpm) at doses of 25 mg/kg (convulsive) or 11.1 micrograms (nonconvulsive) to mice of both strains resulted in similar levels of radioactivity in cortex, hippocampus, and cerebellum 30 and 60 min after injection. Bioconversion of [3H]KA to a radiolabeled brain metabolite in vivo could not be documented in mice from either strain. Results confirm previously reported differences between D2 and B6 mice in their relative susceptibility to seizures induced by systemic KA administration and suggest that these differences are not related to strain-specific variation in metabolism or BBB transport of KA. Further studies of these two strains of mice may be useful for investigating genetic influences upon seizure susceptibility.