The response of kainate receptors to deafferentation and subsequent reinnervation following unilateral entorhinal cortex lesions was studied in the rat hippocampus using quantitative in vitro autoradiography. The binding levels of [3H]kainic acid (KA) and changes in the distribution of KA sites were investigated in the dentate gyrus molecular layer (ML) and in various terminal zones in the CA1 field at 1, 3, 7, 14, 21, 30, and 60 d postlesion. The data from both the ipsilateral and contralateral hippocampus were compared with those from unoperated controls. The first changes in KA receptor distribution were observed 21 d postlesion when the dense band of KA receptors occupying the inner one-third of the ML expanded into the denervated outer two- thirds of the ipsilateral ML. The spreading of the KA receptor field into previously unoccupied zones continued 30 and 60 d postlesion. At these time points, the zone enriched in [3H]KA binding sites became significantly (on average 50%) wider than in unoperated controls. No changes were observed in either the distribution or binding levels in other hippocampal areas or in the contralateral hippocampus at any studied time point. Saturation analysis of binding in the ipsilateral ML 60 d postlesion revealed changes in the maximum number of receptor sites (Bmax) without changes in KA receptor affinity (Kd). The data suggest that the elevation of the [3H]KA binding in the outer two- thirds of the ML reflects an increase in the number of both low and high affinity receptor binding sites. The pattern of KA receptor redistribution was similar to the well-characterized pattern of sprouting of commissural/associational systems from the inner one-third into the outer two-thirds of the ML after entorhinal lesions (Zimmer, 1973; Lynch et al., 1975). This supports the hypothesis (Geddes et al., 1985) that the KA receptor response observed in the present study reflects postlesion reorganization of inputs within the denervated ML and may be relevant to functional recovery of the damaged circuits.