Unilateral damage to the forelimb representation area of the sensorimotor cortex in adult rats increases dendritic arborization of layer V pyramidal neurons of the contralateral homotopic cortex. Arbor size was maximum at approximately 18 d postlesion, following which there was a partial elimination, or pruning, of dendritic processes. These neural changes were closely associated with behavioral events. The overgrowth of dendrites was related in time to disuse of the contralateral (to the lesion) forelimb and over-reliance on the ipsilateral forelimb for postural and exploratory movements. The pruning of dendrites was related to a return to more symmetrical use of the forelimbs. To investigate the possibility that lesion-induced asymmetries in motor behavior contributed to dendritic arborization changes, movements of the forelimb ipsilateral to the lesion were restricted during the period of dendritic overgrowth through the use of one-holed vests. This interfered with the increase in dendritic arborization. In contrast, animals that were allowed to use both forelimbs, or only the forelimb ipsilateral to the lesion, showed the expected increases. When sham-operated rats were forced to use only one forelimb, no significant increases in arborization were found. Therefore, neither a lesion nor asymmetrical limb use alone could account for the dendritic overgrowth--it depended on a lesion-behavior interaction. Furthermore, greater sensorimotor impairments were found when the dendritic growth was blocked, suggesting that the neural growth and/or associated limb-use behavior were related to functional recovery from the cortical damage. Finally, in a second experiment, immobilization of the impaired limb during the pruning period did not prevent the elimination of processes. Thus, the pruning of neural processes was not related simply to the recovery of more symmetrical forelimb use. There may be a period early after brain damage during which marked neural structural changes can occur in the presence of adequate behavioral demand.