The electrical activity of antidromically identified abducens internuclear neurons selectively deprived of their target motoneurons was recorded in chronic alert cats. Target motoneurons were killed by the injection of the cytotoxic lectin of Ricinus communis into the medial rectus muscle. Following target removal, the discharge pattern of abducens internuclear neurons showed an overall decrease in firing rate, a significant reduction in their sensitivity to eye position and velocity, and the presence of anomalous responses such as bursts of spikes associated with off-directed saccades. The decreased excitability of abducens internuclear neurons correlated well with a marked reduction in the synaptic efficacy of their inputs. Thus, both excitatory and inhibitory synaptic potentials of vestibular origin showed a noticeable decrease in amplitude. The alterations in firing properties and synaptic transmission were only observed during an initial period of 3 weeks following ricin injection. Within 1 month the electrophysiological parameters returned to control values and remained unaltered for 1 year. Retrograde labelling of abducens internuclear neurons revealed that no cell death occurred after target loss. The anterograde axonal labelling of these neurons showed a progressive decrease in the density of their axonal terminals, and no sign of redistribution to other areas was found. These findings indicate that abducens internuclear neurons are not dependent on the presence of their natural target cells, either for the survival or for the maintenance of appropriate physiological signals.