The physiological sequelae of undernutrition were investigated in rats that were undernourished from day 1-21 and subsequently free-fed to 75 days of age. Population responses were recorded in the corticospinal tract following surface stimulation of the motor cortex, which activates corticospinal cells directly, and also indirectly via cortical synapses. The conduction velocity of the fastest corticospinal fibers in 15 malnourished rats was 16.9 m/s, significantly slower (P < 0.001) than the 20.0 m/s observed in 26 controls. In addition, the excitability of corticospinal neurons to direct stimulation was reduced as much as 67% in malnourished rats, while no effect on synaptic activation was observed. Our findings suggest that early malnutrition reduces the number of large fibers in the adult corticospinal tract. These results are discussed with respect to known morphological and behavioral effects of malnutrition in rats and their relevance to humans.