Morphological studies of granular neurons of the hippocampus have shown that adrenalectomy (ADX) induces the cell death of granular neurons, an effect prevented by corticosterone replacement. We addressed the hypothesis that corticosterone regulates the expression of the apoptotic bcl-2 gene family. Five days after adrenalectomy, we observed morphological changes related to hippocampal granule cell apoptosis that was accompanied by terminal dUTP nick and labeling (TUNEL) labeling in nuclei located in the hilus region. Corticosterone replacement prevented the cell death induced by ADX. Using RT-PCR we found a reduction in mRNA levels of the antiapoptotic gene bcl-2 in whole hippocampus, an effect which was prevented by corticosterone administration to ADX rats. However, Bcl-2 protein levels were not altered by this treatment. We did not observe modifications in the level of bcl-X LmRNA however, we did find a 40% reduction in Bcl-X L protein levels, an effect not reversed by corticosterone. In contrast, we found a reduction in the mRNA of the antiapoptotic gene bax and Bax levels after ADX; both effects were prevented by corticosterone. The reduction in proapoptotic bax and in antiapoptotic bcl-2 mRNA levels in the whole hippocampus, suggests that local variations in these molecules could account for both neuronal viability of the CA1-CA3 and granular cell death detected by morphological means and observed after ADX.