Excess excitatory amino acids can provoke neuronal death in the hippocampus, and the extracellular proteases tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) and plasmin (ogen) have been implicated in this death. To investigate substrates for plasmin that might influence neuronal degeneration, extracellular matrix (ECM) protein expression was examined. Laminin is expressed in the hippocampus and disappears after excitotoxin injection. Laminin disappearance precedes neuronal death, is spatially coincident with regions that exhibit neuronal loss, and is blocked by either tPA-deficiency or infusion of a plasmin inhibitor, both of which also block neuronal degeneration. Preventing neuron-laminin interaction by infusion of anti-laminin antibodies into tPA-deficient mice restores excitotoxic sensitivity to their hippocampal neurons. These results indicate that disruption of neuron-ECM interaction via tPA/plasmin catalyzed degradation of laminin sensitizes hippocampal neurons to cell death.