The duration of long-term potentiation in the dentate gyrus of awake rats was examined following systematic manipulation of the number of stimulus trains delivered. This was correlated with the induction of immediate early genes in separate groups of animals given identical stimulus regimes. Following 10 trains of stimulation, long-term potentiation decayed with a time constant of up to several days (long-term potentiation 2), and this correlated with the appearance of an increase in the messenger RNA and protein levels of zif/268. Increasing the number of stimulus trains resulted in a greater probability of eliciting long-term potentiation with a time constant of several weeks (long-term potentiation 3), as well as increasing the induction of zif/268, c-Jun, Jun-B, Jun-D and Fos-related proteins. When 10 trains were delivered repeatedly on up to five consecutive days, only the zif/268 protein levels showed associated changes. These data provide support for the hypothesis that long-term potentiation 3 involves mechanisms additional to those for long-term potentiation 2. One possible mechanism is altered gene expression, initiated by immediate early gene transcription factors such as zif/268 and possibly homo- or heterodimers of Fos and Jun family members, that then contributes to the stabilization or maintenance of long-term potentiation 3.