Previous studies have shown that corticosteroid hormones affect kainate-induced excitotoxic processes in the rat hippocampus. In the present study we employed in situ hybridization to examine the effect of adrenalectomy, and subsequent treatment with a low or a high dose of corticosterone on the mRNA levels for kainate receptor subunits in the hippocampus. We observed that adrenalectomy by itself does not affect the expression pattern for the GluR6, GluR7, KAR1 and KAR2 subunits. However, treatment of the adrenalectomized animals with a low dose of corticosterone (3 mu g/100 g bodyweight) resulted in an enhanced expression of the KAR1, KAR2 and GluR6 subunit mRNAs, when compared to the expression levels in the untreated rats or the sham operated controls. Treatment with a high dose of corticosterone (1 mg/100 g bodyweight) yielded expression levels which were significantly lower than those observed in animals treated with a low corticosterone dose, for the KAR1, KAR2 and GluR7 subunit mRNAs; the levels did not differ from those in untreated rats or in the sham group. We conclude that changes in corticosteroid receptor occupancy, which may occur daily due to circadian or stress-induced variations in the circulating corticosterone level, potentially regulate high affinity kainate receptor activation and the processes in which these receptors are involved.