In addition to the well-known teratogenic effect of thalidomide, previous studies have revealed mild immunosuppressive properties and, more recently, an anti-angiogenic activity. To find out more about the specificity of these effects we studied the influence of orally administered thalidomide on Wallerian degeneration in rats. Wallerian degeneration is a potent experimental model for studying reproducible cell proliferation in vivo. Examination of distal nerve segments of transected sciatic nerves from rats that had been treated with thalidomide (2 x 250 mg/kg per day) revealed a significant reduction of endoneurial cell counts at 10-15 days after surgery compared to that seen in controls. This effect was not statistically significant, at a very early stage of Wallerian degeneration, i.e., at 5 days after transection of the nerve. Subperineurial edema and phagocytosis was also reduced, although this was not statistically significant. This apparently nonspecific inhibitory effect of thalidomide during early Wallerian degeneration shown in the present study should be investigated further for its possible relationship to other previously established inhibitory activities of thalidomide, especially its immunosuppressive effect in man.