The laminin-alpha2 chain is a component of brain capillary basement membranes and appears also to be present in neurons of rat, rabbit, pig and non-human primate brain as evidenced by immunohistochemistry. In the present study, we have further characterized this very distinct neuronal laminin-alpha2 chain-like immunoreactivity in the hippocampus of various species. Immunoelectron microscopy with poly- and monoclonal antibodies to the laminin-alpha2 chain G-domain localized laminin-alpha2 chain immunoreactivity in adult rat and rabbit hippocampus to dendritic processes, primarily to dendritic spines. In the developing rat hippocampus, spine-associated laminin-alpha2 chain-like immunoreactivity first appeared at a time corresponding to that of active synaptogenesis. After an entorhinal cortex lesion in adult rats, the time course of denervation-induced loss and reactive reappearance of spines in the molecular layer of the dentate gyrus was correlated closely to the loss and reappearance of laminin-alpha2 chain immunoreactivity. Immunoblot analysis of normal adult rat, rabbit and pig brain revealed a protein similar in size to the reported 80-kDa laminin-alpha2 chain fragment of human placenta as well as 140/160-kDa proteins. These results suggest the presence of proteins with antigenic homology to the laminin-alpha2 chain and/or laminin-alpha2 isoforms in dendrites and dendritic spines in selected areas of the brain, predominately in the hippocampus and other limbic structures. Given the adhesion and neurite promoting functions of laminins, it is possible that neuronal laminin-alpha2 chain-like proteins play a role in synaptic function and plasticity in the CNS.