The present study demonstrates the effects of adrenalectomy and subcutaneously administered corticosterone on N-methyl-D-aspartate-induced neurodegeneration in the cholinergic magnocellular basal nucleus of the rat. NMDA was unilaterally injected into the nucleus basalis at different plasma corticosterone concentrations in adrenalectomized rats, in adrenalectomized animals with subcutaneously implanted cholesterol-corticosterone pellets containing 25% or 100% corticosterone, and in sham-adrenalectomized controls. The neurotoxic impact of the NMDA injection in the various experimental groups was assessed by the loss of cholinergic fibers stained with acetylcholinesterase histochemistry in the parietal neocortex. Reactive cortical astrocytes as a result of the treatments were detected by glial fibrillary acidic protein immunohistochemistry. Measurements of the densities of astrocytes and cholinergic fibers at the injected side of the brain were carried out by image analysis. Adrenalectomy significantly potentiated the NMDA-induced neurodegeneration by 50%, while chronic administration of corticosterone significantly attenuated the NMDA-neurotoxicity in a dose-dependent manner. Compared to the ADX group, 25% corticosterone application reduced the NMDA damage by 37%, whereas the 100% corticosterone pellet diminished NMDA neurotoxicity by 75%. Both ADX and ADX + corticosterone implantation enhanced the NMDA-induced GFAP immunoreactivity. The increase of GFAP immunoreactivity was most pronounced in the adrenalectomized rats supplied with the 100% corticosterone pellets. The results demonstrate that corticosterone exerts a potent neuroprotective effect on NMDA-induced neurotoxicity in the magnocellular nucleus basalis. The activated astroglia suggest that astrocytes may contribute to the beneficial effect of corticosterone in the neuroprotective mechanisms against excitotoxic neuronal injury.