CA1 pyramidal cells become hyperexcitable following hippocampal kainate lesions. To examine if axonal sprouting contributes to this epileptiform activity, the local axonal arborization of CA1 pyramidal cells was examined after intracellular labelling with biocytin in hippocampal slices from control rats and in hyperexcitable slices obtained from rats treated with kainate (bilateral intracerebroventricular injections) 2-4 weeks previously. Biocytin-labelled cells with an axon that could be followed from the soma to the alveus were drawn and reconstructed with a camera lucida (15 cells from control slices and 14 cells from hyperexcitable slices). Local axonal arborizations were more extensive in cells of hyperexcitable slices. This increase in axon collaterals was generally seen in the alveus and in stratum oriens, but changes were more prominent in the latter. In stratum oriens, cells from hyperexcitable slices showed a significant increase in mean total axon length (1035 versus 373 μm in control), in mean number of branching points (6.50 versus 0.67 in control) and in mean number of segment orders per axon (3.07 versus 1.47 in control). Their first-order axon segments were similar in length to those of control cells (236 versus 338 pm in control), but with significantly more branching points (2.86 versus 0.53 in control). Their second-order axon segments were significantly longer (381 versus 63 μm in control) and also showed more branching points (2.71 versus 0.13 in control). Their third- and fourth-order axon segments were also longer and with more branching points. Under high-power light microscopic examination, biocytin-labelled axonal varicosities in cells of hyperexcitable slices were often seen in close apposition with their own dendrites, presumably making synaptic contact (five of nine cells examined). No such appositions were seen in any of the control cells (seven cells examined). These results indicate that, following kainate lesions, there is sprouting of local axon collaterals of CA1 pyramidal cells in stratum oriens and in the alveus. This local increase in axon collaterals may contribute to the epileptiform activity in the CA1 area by providing recurrent excitation via newly formed synaptic, and perhaps even autaptic, contacts with pyramidal cell dendrites.