Recent evidence supports a critical role of neurotrophins in the regulation of both neuronal survival and synaptic transmission during epileptogenesis. We have examined the immunohistochemical expression of high- (tyrosine kinase receptors, trk) and low-affinity (p75) neurotrophin receptors (NTRs) in the hippocampal specimens from 18 patients with chronic temporal lobe epilepsy [TLE; 14 patients with hippocampal sclerosis (HS) and four with focal lesions (tumours) not involving the hippocampus proper]. Nonepileptic autopsy brains (n = 6) and surgical specimens from tumour patients without epilepsy (n = 3) were used as controls. Immunoreactivity (IR) for the trk receptors (trkA, trkB, trkC) was detected in normal human brain within the pyramidal neurones of hippocampal cornus ammoni (CA) regions and in the dentate gyrus. There were no detectable differences in the neuronal trk IR patterns in the hippocampus between control and TLE cases with HS, except for a decrease in neuronal density in regions where cell death had occurred (CA1, CA3 and CA4). In contrast, a consistent increase in trkA IR was observed in reactive astrocytes in CA1 and dentate gyrus. The low-affinity p75 neurotrophin receptor (p75NTR) was expressed in low levels in postnatal normal hippocampus. In contrast, neuronal p75NTR IR was detected in 10/14 cases of HS in spared neurones within the CA and hilar regions of the hippocampus. Double labelling revealed that p75NTR-positive neurones also contain trk receptor IR. In six cases with prominent glial activation strong p75NTR IR was observed in microglial cells within the sclerotic hippocampus. The present results indicate that changes in NTR expression are still detectable in the hippocampus of patients with chronic TLE and involve both glial and neuronal cells. Reactive astrocytes were immunoreactive for trkA, whereas activated microglia cells were reactive for p75NTR, suggesting different functions for specific NTRs in the development of reactive gliosis. Moreover, the increased expression of p75NTR in hippocampal neurones of TLE patients may critically influence the neuronal survival during the epileptogenic process.