ACTH has been used extensively for treatment of massive infantile spasms (MIS) and other intractable seizures. The mechanisms by which ACTH exerts anticonvulsant effects are unknown. ACTH is a neuropeptide with both endocrine and neuromodulatory properties; its efficacy against MIS could derive from intrinsic anticonvulsant properties or from hormonal effects, either directly or through glucocorticoids. We tested ACTH activity against exogenous corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH)-induced seizures in the infant rat model. CRH was administered into the cerebral ventricles of 85 infant rats aged 5-13 days. ACTH was used either 20-60 min before CRH administration or "chronically" (pretreatment with four doses of ACTH every 6 h, before CRH administration). In a separate group of rat pups, we measured plasma corticosterone to ascertain ACTH availability. Administration of CRH, an age-specific endogenous convulsant, resulted in a prolonged series of seizures after 2- to 55-min latency. There was no difference in latency between controls (9.5 +/- 1.2 min) and ACTH-treated rats (12.4 +/- 2.8 min for combined acute and chronic groups). CRH-induced seizure duration (88.2 +/- 9 vs. 74.7 +/- 9.4 min) and severity of seizures was also unchanged by ACTH treatment. ACTH reached the circulation and caused significant increase in plasma glucocorticoids. ACTH does not block the convulsant action of exogenous CRH in infant rats. An alternative mechanism for the anticonvulsant effect of ACTH may be suppression of synthesis and secretion of an endogenous convulsant, i.e., CRH.