We have studied the effect of two glutamate receptor antagonists on seizures and hippocampal neurone loss in the rat after systemic kainic acid administration. Intraperitoneal injection of the novel AMPA (alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolproprionic acid) receptor antagonist NBQX (6-nitro-7-sulphamoylbenzo(f)quinoxaline-2,3-dione) (30 mg/kg x 3 and 15 mg/kg x 3) administered 30 and 15 min. before and simultaneously with injection of kainic acid (5 mg/kg) intraperitoneally, dramatically enhanced the toxicity of kainic acid leading to death of all animals. When the NBQX dose was reduced to 8 mg/kg x 3, all animals survived and neurone damage in the hippocampus did not differ from control animals. When NBQX (30 mg/kg x 3) was administered 30- or 60 min after injection of kainic acid (8 mg/kg) intraperitoneally, no changes were observed concerning survival rates, seizure generation and neurone loss. Post-kainic acid treatment with the non-competitive NMDA receptor antagonist MK-801 (0.5 mg/kg and 1.0 mg/kg), 30 and 60 min. after intraperitoneally injection of kainic acid 8 mg/kg, abolished seizures in all animals and the neurone damage in the hippocampus was completely prevented. The results emphasize the importance of the NMDA-receptor activation for seizure generation and subsequent brain damage after intraperitoneally kainic acid. The paradoxical, unexpected effects of NBQX contrast to the protective effect of this compound after cerebral ischaemia and hypoglycaemia, conditions which are also characterized by glutamate-mediated damage. One possible explanation of the lowered seizure threshold to kainic acid after NBQX could be that NBQX is blocking AMPA receptors on interneurones more efficiently than on pyramidal cells.