Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical function in rats with brain lesions induced by neonatal monosodium glutamate (MSG) treatment (4 mg/g, 5 administrations, i.p.) was evaluated in the present study. Using in situ hybridization we found increased proopiomelanocortin (POMC) mRNA levels in the adenopituitary and normal corticotropin-releasing hormone mRNA levels in the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus in MSG-treated rats. The total content of pituitary adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) was not changed, while pituitary ACTH concentration was higher in MSG-treated compared to control rats. The number of ACTH-immunostained cells per a constant area of adenohypophysial section, as measured by immunohistochemistry, was unchanged indicating that no significant condensation of corticotropes occurred. Basal plasma ACTH concentrations were not different, whereas morning corticosterone levels were elevated in rats with MSG treatment. While ACTH response to stress stimuli was similar in both groups of rats, corticosterone response to exogenous ACTH (500 ng/kg, i.v., Synacthen), short-lasting handling and immobilization was of the same magnitude but prolonged in MSG-treated rats. Based on the decline of [<sup>3</sup>H]corticosterone in plasma, a decreased corticosterone clearance rate was found in MSG-treated rats. These findings suggest that MSG treatment results in increased POMC gene expression per corticotrope of the atrophic pituitary resulting in maintenance of normal pituitary ACTH stores and plasma ACTH levels. Elevated basal levels of corticosterone in plasma as well as prolonged corticosterone responses to stimulations in rats treated with MSG seem to be due to a decreased clearance rate of corticosterone.