The induction of ornithine decarboxylase (ODC) in adult CNS and the resulting changes in polyamine levels are often observed under conditions associated with activation of NMDA receptors, calpain stimulation and spectrin degradation. The present study was directed at evaluating the links between these two sets of events. We measured the effects of an acute treatment of adult rats with difluoromethylornithine (DFMO), an irreversible inhibitor of ODC, on biochemical alterations following kainate-induced seizure activity. Beside ODC activity and polyamine levels, we assayed the in situ spectrin degradation and the in vitro binding of 3H-Ro5-4864, a ligand for the peripheral benzodiazepine binding sites which is a good marker of glial proliferation, at various time intervals following systemic kainic acid (KA) injection. Kainate-induced seizure activity was followed by a transient increase in ODC activity, a long-lasting increase in putrescine levels and spectrin degradation, and a delayed increase in 3H-Ro5-4864 binding, mainly in hippocampus and piriform cortex. Treatment of the animals with DFMO markedly reduced the increase in putrescine levels up to 7 days after KA injection. It also reduced the increase in spectrin breakdown observed at 16 h but not at 4 and 7 days after KA injection. Finally, it did not modify the increase in 3H-Ro5-4864 binding measured 4 and 7 days after KA injection. The levels of putrescine were positively correlated with the extent of spectrin proteolysis in KA-treated animals whether or not they were treated with DFMO, at 16 h but not at 7 days after KA injection. The results indicate that the extent of spectrin breakdown observed shortly after KA-induced seizure activity is causally related to the changes in ODC activity and putrescine levels. Although the data are consistent with the idea that putrescine could be a marker for acute pathology, they do not support a role for polyamines in delayed neurotoxicity.