Microtubule-associated protein 2 (MAP-2) was studied in the gerbil hippocampus and striatum after transient ischemia. Western immunoblot analysis shows that there is a significant decrease of MAP-2 in the dorsolateral sector of the striatum and a slight decrease of MAP-2 in the CA1 region of the hippocampus 6-12 h after ischemia in the gerbil forebrain. The immunohistochemical staining pattern of MAP-2 in these two regions also shows a loss of immunostaining of MAP-2. In particular, a beaded MAP-2 immunostaining pattern at the apical dendritic region of the CA1 neurons of the hippocampus was found within 12 h after ischemia compared with the smooth dendritic immunostaining of MAP-2 in normal CA1 neurons. In vitro assays of MAP-2 degradation suggest that dendritic loss of immunoreactivity after ischemia seen on western blots may be due to calpain I degradation of MAP-2. Loss of MAP-2 in both the striatum and hippocampus was found to occur earlier than spectrin degradation by western blot analysis. These results suggest that loss of MAP-2 may participate in the initial phase of neuronal dysfunction and that dendritic breakdown may be a first sign of neurodegeneration.